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

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat