The Quasi-Jewish Messianist Sect at the Center of Contemporary Turkish Anti-Semitism

April 17 2019

When the Jewish false messiah Shabbetai Tsvi converted to Islam in 1666—under threat of execution by the Ottoman sultan—most of those who had believed his claims became disillusioned; others remained committed in secret. But his most devoted followers joined him in becoming Muslim, a move they justified through Shabtai’s kabbalistic teachings. Their descendants, known as the Dönme, practice their own idiosyncratic form of Judaism in secret and remain a separate community in modern Turkey, where they are the subject of outlandish, and anti-Semitic, conspiracy theories. Türkay Salim Nefes writes:

Since the early 20th century, conspiracy theories have accused the Dönme of secretly manipulating Turkish society and politics.

The conspiratorial rhetoric initially emerged after Theodor Herzl [first tried to arrange a meeting with the sultan in 1896]. The Ottoman ruler, Abdulhamid II, did not grant the request, and in 1908, he was toppled by a coup d’état. Some conspiratorial accounts claimed that the coup was Jewish revenge for his refusal to “sell” Palestine [to Herzl]. . . .

[After 1945, the Turkish government’s] censorship of political groups decreased. This enabled right-wing and Islamist groups to circulate conspiracy theories about the community. . . . Until the 1990s, the conspiratorial accounts were confined to marginal right-wing circles, Turkish nationalists, and Islamists. During the 1990s and 2000s, the conspiratorial accounts became prevalent once again after [publication of] the works of a self-proclaimed Dönme, Ilgaz Zorlu. He wrote articles about the history of the group and advocated that Dönmes should convert back to Judaism. . . . In this period, not only right-wingers and Islamists but also some left-wingers . . . published conspiratorial accounts about the community.

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Read more at Dayan Center

More about: Anti-Semitism, Messianism, Ottoman Empire, Shabbetai Tzvi, Turkey


What Donald Trump Gets Right about Israel and the Arabs

Oct. 17 2019

With a brisk history of American policy toward the Jewish state, Michael Doran highlights the failure of those who have seen a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as paramount to U.S. interests, and the success of those who have instead made a clear-eyed assessment of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Too often, writes Doran, “Israel’s conflict with the Arabs has functioned as a screen onto which outsiders project their own psychodramas”: a skewed perspective that led to the failed Oslo Accords and to the misguided condemnations of American moves like the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. (Free registration required.)

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Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, US-Israel relations