Ibrahim Bozdemir

Since I witnessed the ever-lasting motivation of the German society to fight anti-Semitism with their personal feelings and memories of guilt one more, but apparently not for the last time in a remark made by one of the panelists, I’ve been asking myself why this constant sense of guilt exists in Germany to the extent where one even hesitates to critically talk about the matter with a German. The ironical side of the story is that I could not find any answer beyond the emotional aspect of the situation despite all the readings and discussions we made regarding the topic. Therefore, I wanted to take a look at any traces of anti-Semitism in the Turkish society with which I’m obviously more familiar, and accordingly to draw a comparison between these two cases so that I might perhaps get an extra insight into the issue. The first incident of similar nature that struck my mind was the most-famous “Varlık Vergisi” to which Esra Özyürek also refers in her article.

Although Ottoman Empire is often regarded as a tolerant haven for Jews, as exemplified in the welcomed immigration of Sephardic Jews to the empire, the tides were seemingly reversed with the foundation of the new Turkish Republic. I had never truly understood this somersault turn in the attitude of Turkish society toward Jews until I actually wrote a long article about anti- Semitic incidents in the early years of the infant republic. “Varlık Vergisi”, which was an extremely high tax levied on non-Muslim citizens (Armenians, Jews, Greeks) from 1938 to 1944, is an obvious example of those incidents.

Even though an ordinary Turkish citizen would deny any such claims in an irrationally blind manner, I could come to the conclusion after my research that the tax and all the propaganda revolving around it were embedded in the nation-building process of the Turkish state where the wealth wanted to be intentionally re-distributed from the minorities to a Turkish elite. While acknowledging the controversial nature of my conclusion, I can claim to have understood something about the actual background of anti-Semitism in Turkey. If this is the case, why cannot I do the same in Germany?

It is now almost a common sense that, as one journalist well-stated, the “German fragility” is the ultimate element which governs the discourse about anti-Semitism both in German society and media. However, the lack of any substantial explanations in the second panel apart from some sensitive feelings inherited from older generations suggests that there is actually a need for an objective approach, especially among politicians and journalists, which accounts for the actuality surrounding the issue. This type of overarching and accountable discourse would in return reveal the true responsibility that Germany might have not only towards Jews, but also towards other minorities, who have been perhaps unfairly the target of fragile arguments from the German media discourse. Accordingly, instead of placing the tag of anti-Semitic on migrants, recognizing the reasons why some of them might behave so, would serve as a mirror for the German community to reflect on their own fragility.