Like many of his fellow Islamists, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a committed believer in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which he sometimes alludes to by speaking of Zionists or, in a favorite locution, the “interest-rate lobby.” With this phrase, Erdogan combines familiar European canards about nefarious Jewish financiers with the traditional Islamic prohibition on usury. Aykan Erdemir and John Lechner argue that Erdogan’s fanciful notions about Jewish malfeasance could push his country’s fragile economy over the brink:
Many in the West assumed that when Erdogan blamed the [mass anti-government protests of] 2013 on an “interest-rate lobby,” he intended it as a jibe against bankers. However, to a Turk, “interest-rate lobby” invokes the familiar conspiracy theory that Jews, as [the scholar] Svante Cornell put it, control nations by “driving countries into economic crises and then lending their governments money at exorbitant interest rates.” . . . Such rhetoric, when combined with the state-sanctioned anti-Semitism purveyed by pro-government media, has led to a spike in everyday anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Semitism Index, Turkey ranks 17th among 102 countries, with an even higher incidence of anti-Semitism than Iran. . . .
Erdogan . . . insists that high interest rates lead to higher inflation. Economists know that raising interest rates tends to bring down inflation, but Erdogan’s willful ignorance of this axiom cannot fully explain his hostility. . . . While the president is a pragmatic politician, capable of making unexpected U-turns on other issues, his deeply ingrained prejudices animate his financial policy, which is not likely to change.
Until economic sanity prevails in Turkish politics, Erdogan will continue to perceive and present currency devaluations, bankruptcies, and potential International Monetary Fund bailouts as a Jewish plot to undermine his vision for Turkey. Every decision regarding whether to hike or to lower interest rates will be colored by the president’s perception that he is submitting to the Jewish cabal or George Soros. As he faces challenging municipal elections next year, finding scapegoats for Turkey’s flailing economy appears to be his main campaign strategy. By letting his anti-Semitism drive his economic policy agenda, however, Erdogan may himself bring about precisely the sort of crisis he blames on the Jews.