November 9, 2015

AKP’s Jewish lawyer

Ihsan Yilmaz

I have been informed that the website Jewish Political News & Updates has published a news story titled “Gülenist Supporters Target Jewish Lawyer In Anti-Semitic Attack,” citing my name.

The publishers of this appalling defamatory piece made no effort to contact me or to include my response. This is not a case of honest journalism; it is clearly a smear campaign.

The piece claims, “Prominent Gülenist figures, including İhsan Yılmaz, lashed out at Robert Amsterdam's Jewish background on his Twitter account, criticizing the Turkish state for hiring a ‘Jewish' lawyer.” This is entirely false. My tweet, which this claim is erroneously based on, is still on my feed, open for anyone to check. In the tweet, I posted an image of a pro-government journalist's tweet that stated, “Make your electoral decision according to where the celebrations will be held on the night of Nov. 1: Tel Aviv or Gaza.” In an effort to point out a clear discrepancy in the AKP's staunchly anti-Israel campaign rhetoric, I tweeted that “the AKP government resorts to this rhetoric but the lawyer it hired to target Hizmet-affiliated schools in the US and Africa is Jewish.”

In the tweet it is clear that I am responding to the AKP's assertions that the opposition in Turkey works with Israel and the Jewish community (the interest lobby). The AKP constantly claims that the Hizmet (Gülen) movement is a CIA and MOSSAD puppet. All of the pro-AKP media outlets have been propagating this lie for the last two years. I have also personally been the target of such baseless professions with repulsive anti-Semitic undertones. My bosses were even sent letters stating that “İhsan Yılmaz is a MOSSAD agent and a Jew who was born in Israel” to get me fired. I have tweeted on these allegations numerous times and have penned pieces in my Today's Zaman column, whose archive is available on the Internet.

While the AKP and its Turkish-language media systematically continue to label Gülen-sympathizers as pro-Israel and representing US interests, its English ones such as Daily Sabah write that Gülen sympathizers are anti-Western, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, etc. A state dedicated to democratic norms would try to make society more inclusive and try to address the difficulties minorities face, but the Erdoğan government is targeting minorities in an effort to appeal to existing negative stereotypes within its own electorate.

I advise the website to carefully analyze what the AKP politicians who have hired Mr. Amsterdam have been expressing about “Jewish and Israeli conspiracies” and the highly anti-Semitic nature of these politically motivated expressions. The AKP is responsible for disseminating the message in mass rallies and on national TV that being Jewish or being associated with Jewish people is a crime. The media companies in the hands of the government and government politicians have consistently sought to discredit others, most recently the faith-based Hizmet movement, by asserting that they work with and for the Jewish lobby. It is highly worrying to me that association with a group of people can be used to smear someone. From my point of view, the personal background, belief or ethnicity of the firm -- or anyone for that matter -- makes no difference. It becomes noteworthy only in so far as demonstrating an irony of the AKP government.

I am a professor of political science. I have the intelligence and maturity to know that evil cannot be understood with a focus on race. In every race, religion or ethnicity, there are good people and evil people. Some of the monstrous dictators who killed millions of innocent people such as Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini were not religious. The most evil oppressors of Muslims such as Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, etc. are nominally Muslims. Only racists and some political Islamists would argue that a race has some intrinsic and essential good or bad nature. This is not only scientifically but historically untrue.

Debates about the actions of the state of Israel are something else. Here we are not talking about a race but a political entity. While I have consistently written that an Israeli state within the pre-1967 borders must be respected and that the Palestinians deserve a fully independent state, I have always denounced suicide bombings as inhumane and un-Islamic. Likewise, I have been against the bombing of civilians, ambulances and hospitals by the Israeli state led by hawkish right-wing politicians. I have not only differentiated right-wing Israeli politicians from the left wing, but I have also discerned different versions of Zionism.

While these are my views that I have been sharing with my readers and my students, I am frustrated that the website frames me as an anti-Semite. The journalist should have instead inquired into why Mr. Amsterdam is working for a political party that voices blatant anti-Semitic messages.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 8 November 2015, Sunday