Rising anti-American and anti-Israel feelings in Turkey

While some commentators argue that the U.S. tries to promote 'moderate Islam' on the Turkish model, how can we explain these feelings?

Rising anti-American and anti-Israel feelings in Turkey

By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin

In recent years, there is an increasing anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish society. While some commentators argue that the U.S. tries to promote 'moderate Islam' on the Turkish model, how can we explain these feelings? In other words, can Turkey be a 'model' for the other Islamic societies through "anti-American" and "anti-Israeli" society?

As Hasan Kanbolat, ORSAM Director, says, "Turkey's fascination with the US gradually grew after World War II and during the 1950s. For Turkey, the US meant democracy. It meant development. It meant power. The US was a country that set an example for Turkey."

In 1960s, leftist and some Islamist groups began to criticize American policies in Turkey; but they could not spread their feelings and ideas into the society. In this period, conservative groups were powerful in Turkish society and they were focusing on their national identities rather than their Islamic identities. In this way, there was no strong anti-imperialist agenda. Conservative Muslims were preferring to struggle with communist groups rather than the policies of the U.S. This picture has begun to change through Iran Islamic Revolution. After that date, some conservative Muslims began to define themselves as a Muslim rather than nationalist or conservative. Despite all these changes, there was no anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish society generally until 2000s.

After 1990s, this picture has changed in the general population. According to Hasan Kanbolat, "the main factors for this change were the First Gulf War (1990-1991), the Sept. 11 attack, the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the US becoming a de facto neighbor of Turkey along the Iraqi border, claims that the US is aiding Kurds and giving them weapons to ensure Turkey's division, the hood incident in Sulaimaniya in 2003 (an incident on July 4, 2003, in which dozens of US soldiers raided an office used by the Turkish special forces in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya and took 11 Turkish soldiers into custody over allegations that they were planning to assassinate the governor of Kirkuk), the pro-Israeli attitude adopted by the US administrations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the ever-growing and settling of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West."

What are the roots of this shift?

"This rosy picture of Turkey, however, slowly began to fade in the lead-up to Iraq's invasion. In March 2003, after six months of contentious military, political, and financial negotiations between Ankara and Washington, the Turkish parliament denied U.S. troops' access to Iraq via southeast Turkey. The reaction in Washington was shock and disbelief. Turkey's decision not only forced the Pentagon to change its original war plans—there was to be no northern front against Baghdad—but also complicated the post-war situation." says Omer Taspinarand adds: "Unlike past domestic trends, the current wave of anti-Americanism in Turkey seems to be embraced by all segments of Turkish society."

On the other hand, Ihsan Bal's comments in this issue are so: "This feeling has been fueled by American policies towards the PKK and most recently the assumptions of use of Armenian allegations as a carrot and stick policy against Turkey."

In addition to these, we know that the structure of relations between Turkey and Israel changed after 2000s. Hezbollah-Israel War, Davos Panel, the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and Mavi Marmara incident were the factors which led to problematic relations between these countries. And also, as Seyfeddin Kara says, first blow in this issue came in 2004. Erdogan was outraged at the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and called it a "terrorist act". He also described the Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip as "state-sponsored terrorism".

Today many commentators and authors discuss if this anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish society is related to Turkey's AKP Government or not. As Ihsan Bal says, "according to the neo-cons Turkish people have become anti American because Turkish government is Islamic and Turkish media, particularly Islamic one, steaming hatred against Americans in Turkey."

Before looking at the AKP's viewpoint to America and Israel, we want to quote comments of some Turkish commentators on Israel's policies in the Palestine.


Firstly, I want to quote Murat Belge's sentences about Israeli regime:

"They are no different than any other racist-fascist regime. But the international community is more tolerant in this case, and the extreme American support plays a very large role here. Naturally, we must not forget the very strong influence of the Jewish presence in Western societies."

As Rıfat Bali says, The Islamist sociologist Ali Bulaç, a columnist for Zaman and well-known public intellectual, in one of his articles described Gaza as "a concentration camp that in reality surpass the Nazis camps" and also wrote that "Israel neither wants peace nor will it give up the lands between the Nile and the Euphrates since it is the LORD who gave them to it!"

In addition to this, Ayhan Demir's comments are so: "The first thing to be done to achieve the security of Istanbul and Jerusalem is to get rid, in as short a time as possible, of this "shanty town" that has begun to harm humanity on the entire face of the earth, and which is as offensive to the heart as to the eye. To send the occupiers to the garbage heap of history, together with their bloody charlatanism would be one of the most noble acts that could be realized in the name of humanity. A world without Israel would be, without a doubt, a much more peaceful and secure world."

According to Ahmet Turan Alkan, "when Israel emerged as a state after World War II, there was an aspect to it that had the air of a science fiction novel, or a very ancient epic. Israel is the product of a fantasy: a fantasy that is unparalleled, that leaves one speechless and boggles the mind; it's the product of an illusion."

If you ask me why I need to quote their sentences, I can say that as you know through these comments, many authors labeled Turkey as an anti-American and anti-semitic. But, in my opinion, all of these comments are very fair and appropriate in compared to Israel's oppressions. So, saying that these commentators trigger the anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish society is very wrong and unjust.

Then, can it be true that because Turkish government is Islamic, Turkish society became more and more anti-American?

What is the viewpoint of AKP?

Actually, this issue is very parallel to AKP's foreign policy rationale. As we know that after his first victory, Washington invited Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to America. The AKP preferred to cooperate with the U.S. and Israel in global political scene. For example, Turkey's role at ISAF in Afghanistan is one of these cooperations.

But, as we mentioned in Omer Taspinar's comments, In March 2003, after six months of contentious military, political, and financial negotiations between Ankara and Washington, the Turkish parliament denied U.S. troops' access to Iraq via southeast Turkey.

Especially, after Hezbollah-Israel War in 2006, Turkish Prime Minister began to criticize both American and Israeli policies more frequently. But this did not mean that Turkey will reject America and Israel as political powers. Actually, Turkey began to take its neighbors and its public opinion into account.

As we mentioned before, we know that several opinion polls revealed the negative image of Israel in the eyes of the Turkish populace. The outcome of an opinion poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), published on 1/4/2008, revealed that 78% of the Turkish people do not like Israel, and only 11% do so. But here the question is: Does the AK Party's policies trigger public opinion or does public opinion trigger its policies? Actually, there is no exact/sharp border between these questions.

Nonetheless, the Turkish-Israeli relations are expected to be generally good in future because of the common security, economic and political interests between the two parties. In addition to this, with Obama administration, Turkey began to use different diplomatic language to America. We saw its example in the last Wikileaks problem.

Then, how can we explain Erdogan's sharp sentences about Israeli and American policies despite his party's good relations with them. In my opinion, we can explain this question with the structure of Turkish public opinion.

Turkish society...

"The anti-American feelings of the Turkish people seem to have reached its highest level in the whole Republican history in recent years." says Ozan Ormeci. According "to the survey that was made in 21 countries by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), to the question of "Is the re-election of President George W. Bush affirmative for world peace and security?" the highest no replies came from Turkey with 82 %".

On the other hand, "when Justice and Development Party came to power, anti-Semitic mood has intensified in Turkey," director of the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University Svante Cornell said. "Anti-Semitism in Turkey is expressed in various areas, for example the Turkish film 'Valley of the Wolves', which promotes anti-Semitism. It did not cause proper reaction of the Turkish authorities."

Actually, Cornell's argument is very controversial because as Burak Bekdil says, "anti-Americanism" in Turkey had traversed ideological divides. "Islamists, nationalists, Kemalists, liberals, social democrats, leftists, your cleaning lady, the waiter at your favorite restaurant, the owner of the shop on the corner, the taxi driver, even the modern Turkish youth who 'try to live like the Americans' are anti-American."

Although the arguments of Islamists and Kemalists about this issue are very different, it is the fact that today, this anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment spread to general population. Before looking at if its roots derive from Islamic AKP Government or not, we want to remind some protests about anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.

As Rıfat Bali says, "in reaction to the war, the Turkish Consumers Union (Tüketiciler Birliği) called for a boycott of Israeli products. The Pera Museum in Istanbul postponed the opening of an exhibition of works by Marc Chagall on loan from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The abovementioned leading curator Vasıf Kortun called on the art community to boycott Israeli artists."

In addition to this, "the famous female vocalist Yıldız Tilbe invoked curses on Israel during a television program, saying, 'May God brings down one disaster after another upon Israel.'"

Moreover, "a Eurocup basketball game in Ankara between Türk Telekom and the Israeli team Bnei Hasharon had to be called off because of protests against the Israeli players."

Then, when we look at the whole picture, can we say that the Turkish society is anti-semitic? I think 'no'. Firstly, we should know that Turkish people criticize Israeli oppressions like all virtuous people. All of these protests, in my opinion, are very normal in compared to actions of America and Israel. Maybe, here, we can only question the consciousness of these protestor people. If they behave very emotionally, this means that their protests and practices will be in opposite way. Yes, it should be questioned; but it should not mean to be a silent against the oppression of America and Israel.

About this issue, "it can be argued that Turkish people are concerned about American foreign policies (particularly regarding Turkey and the region) and their attitudes are shaped in the light of these policies." saysIhsan Bal.

"There is no widespread anti Americanism in Turkey, however there is a level of hostile feelings against American administration.


One must realize that the problem between Turkey and US is not cultural, social, economic and "love and hate relation" between the communities but Turkish public's disapproval of the US government policies."

Hasan Kanbolat's comments also focus on same issue; but his points are some different:

"The strong anti-American winds that started to blow in the early 2000s in Turkey do not insist on a rejection of Western or American values or lifestyle. They are more like the traditional anti-Americanism of the French people. In other words, Turks watch US films. They buy Western consumer goods in shopping centers. They have adapted to the McDonald's culture. They mark Valentine's Day as if it were a thousand-year-old Turkish tradition. They love to live in a multiparty democracy and a free market economy. They tend to interpret the world and objects with the same principles as Americans. Thus, how Turks interpret life and the world overlaps with that of Americans."

From this viewpoint, we can say that there is no powerful religious argument for Turkish people about their anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment because in terms of religious viewpoint, being against Israeli and American oppressions means "a rejection of Western or American values or lifestyle". Maybe this atmosphere can be explained by nationalist identity of Turkish society.

Different viewpoints about anti-Americanism

According to results of a public opinion poll conducted by Infakto Research Workshop about increasing anti-Americanism in Turkey, there are four categories appear with regard to the US:

"Anti-Americans: This group is composed of those, who have completely negative perspectives regarding the US, the Americans and Bush. They are also against the American lifestyle. These 199 people make up 16 percent of survey participants.

Skeptics: A group making up 44-percent, approach the US and Bush negatively but not to all Americans and American popular culture.

Those having positive approaches: This group is composed of 330 participants, who view the US, Americans and the American popular culture positively.

Those having insufficient information: This group is made up of 162 participants having insufficient information about the US therefore failing to off an opinion to the questions."

Actually, in my opinion, "Skeptics" also can be counted as an anti-American because when you ask them about America or Israel, you will probably take similar answers in proportion to that of "Anti-Americans". Here, we should focus on the differences between them.

Although anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment began with Islamic sensitiveness, in last years, these feelings shifted to nationalist viewpoint to some extent. This does not mean that there is no any person who has Islamic identity and he refuses both their products and their lifestyles. Of course, there are many people in this manner.

Today, although we hope that, we cannot explain anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism of Turkish society with their Islamic identities; actually, Turks like to struggle superpowers because of their past and they see themselves as a provider of justice in the world. So, as a threat for Turkey, America became in the agenda of Turkish society.

If we do not emphasize this reality, we cannot explain the spreading of anti-Americanism in general population in Turkey and the last anti-American(but also ultra-nationalist) films, books, etc... Many Islamic organizations, today, complain this issue and they want to see conscious Turkish society in their anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment. Otherwise, all these protests will be only verbally, not practically.

As Hasan Kanbolat says, today, "parties riding on anti-American waves managed to increase their electoral support. Those who produced films or TV series based on this managed to attract millions of spectators. Authors who incorporated anti-American sentiment into their novels were able to sell their books. Intellectuals who made anti-US statements to the media found supporters. Thus anti-Americanism became food for everyone. An orchestration of an-Americanism was presented -- one mixed with national sensitivities."

After this point, finally, we want to look at some anti American Turkish films or TV series.

Anti-Americanism in Turkish films

"As stronger and stronger anti-American winds began to blow in Turkey post Sept. 11, Turkish series and films began to tie everything negative that was going on in both Turkey and the world in general to America. And these Turkish works, which also add national sensitivities and paranoid views into the mix, have found a viewer base." says Hasan Kanbolat.

Although we can give many examples, firstly, I want to look at "Separation" series. You know that Pana Film is very popular about these anti-Israeli and anti-American films. "Separation" is one of the products of this company. The comments of "Separation" series are so: "The series is about a love story in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. In one scene an Israeli soldier deliberately shoots an innocent Palestinian girl in the chest at close range, and she falls bleeding to the ground. The first episode shows Israeli soldiers abusing Palestinians. One of them is portrayed kicking a Palestinian, and others are seen beating innocent civilians. In the background there are pictures of tanks, explosions, children throwing rocks and corpses lying everywhere."

In addition to this, we can mention "Metal Fırtına(Metal Storm)" movie. As Hasan Kanbolat says, "a movie based on the book "Metal Fırtına" (Metal Storm) which came out in Dec. 2004 and became one of Turkey's best-selling books at the time, is expected to be released in Turkish cinemas on Dec. 31. The film, which tells the story of a battle between Turkey and the US, is aiming to take advantage of the anti-American winds that are blowing around Turkey."

But the most popular of these series and films is "Valley of the Wolves" series and films.

Valley of the the Wolves Palestine

"The 'Valley of the Wolves' franchise -- made by the production company Pana Film -- has enjoyed tremendous success in Turkey. The title evokes mythological images from a story beloved by nationalists of a lone wolf that guided Turks out of a Central Asian valley where they had been trapped by enemies." saysBunyamin Koseli, from Today's Zaman. "The television series, known as "Kurtlar Vadisi" in Turkish, first aired in 2003. The initial, mafia-focused plot saw Polat tasked to penetrate Turkish organized crime. With its regular quota of gunfights and mayhem, the series rapidly gained and maintained an enormous following. Today, Pana claims between 20 million and 40 million Turks watch each week. Then came "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," the 2006 feature film that saw Polat Alemdar avenging in fiction the real-life events of July 2003, when American forces captured and hooded a team from the Turkish special forces in northern Iraq. Styled like a Hollywood blockbuster, the film prominently featured the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. After Iraq, Pana Film began a series about Turkey's long conflict with outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists. But pressure forced them to shelve "Valley of the Wolves: Terror" after just one episode as the subject was too sensitive."

On the other hand, according to Betul Akkaya Demirbas, from Today's Zaman, Valley of the Wolves Gladio also "addresses Turkey's years-long adventure with the deep state and illegal formations nested within the state and aims to provide an opportunity for movie fans to closely look at the "deep gangs" that attempted to stir and divide Turkey with subversive plots."

And finally, we came across Pana Film through its controversial film 'Valley of the Wolves Palestine'. It is expected to come out on Jan. 28, 2011. It "deals with a Turkish agent and his comrades who go to Gaza to exact revenge from the Israeli commander responsible for planning the killing of passengers aboard the ship." And main subject in this movie and comments about it are so: "The trailer begins with the Israeli commander ordering the Mavi Marmara to stop, and when it refuses, IDF soldiers board the ship and attack the passengers, who try to defend themselves. Later, the Turkish agent and his comrades are sent to Palestine to exact revenge from the Israeli commander. The movie shows 'Israeli soldiers' shooting handcuffed Palestinian prisoners. In the final scene, not even the Israeli general's cruelty and the advanced technological means he has at his disposal can save him from the avenging Turks."

According to the sources, "The new movie will reveal the true face of Israel, and in accordance, the relations between it and Turkey will deteriorate even further."

In response to criticisms about this movie, spokesperson from Pana Film said that "All of humanity, especially the Israeli public, looks on with sorrow at the insensitivity with which the Israeli authorities take action against Palestinian children. Basic rights – such as nourishment, food, and education – are denied them. How can it be that these same Israeli authorities, who without hesitating bombed children staying under a UN flag in Gaza, are now bothered by a television series that is just presenting what they did?"

When we look at all these comments and explanations, any person easily suppose that this movie depend on Islamic arguments. But this is not so. Although there are points which focus on anti-Israeli sentiment and Israeli oppressions, in final point, we come across not an Islamic hero, but a nationalist Turkish 'hero'. So, this reality deserves to be questioned in the light of the structure of Turkish society.

As we know, "Necati Şaşmaz is sometimes described as the Turkish James Bond. Millions of young Turks idolize him, imitating his mannerisms and speech. (Today's Zaman, August 15, 2010) On the other hand, "their main character is Polat Alemdar, whose starring role in most of the series' movies and TV shows has made him a kind of Turkish Rambo or Jack Baeur. But unlike those more traditional action stars, Alemdar appears to wage cultural and religious war against perceived American and Israeli enemies." says Max Fisher.

And as Bunyamin Koseli says, this movie "is also expected to draw huge interest from Middle Eastern countries. Following the 2006 movie, the characters in the movie have been welcomed as heroes in the Middle Eastern countries they go to."


"Turkey is now for the first time experiencing the U.S. double standards and pro – Israel biased policy, which the Arabs have been victims for decades." says Nicola Nasser. "Israel is not making U.S. life easier in the region."

As we know, "U.S. traditional pro – Israel diplomacy has been all along playing in the hands of Israeli extremists" and this picture did not change with the Obama administration. In this issue, "Barack Obama's election as the new US president partially improved the situation concerning the image of the US in Turkey, but anti-Americanism in Turkey not only continued, but also grew." says Hasan Kanbolat.

If we do not see American and Israeli oppressions all over the world, we can not exactly understand the main factors of this anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment. Labeling people as anti-semitic is very simple way in order to justify Israeli oppressions. So, firstly, we should decide that all these actions are oppressions and they deserve to be criticized and to be protested. So, in my opinion, after accepting this reality, we should talk about the structure of these protests; are they permanent/practical or emotional reactions?

Last Mod: 05 Şubat 2011, 10:47
Add Comment
AL-HILAL - 10 yıl Before

Thank you Mr Ismael Duman, Thank you World BulletinThe presentation is objectice, factual and very timely indeed.

Feral  Magyar
Feral Magyar - 10 yıl Before

The behavior of the Israel Zionist government in abusing the Palestinians is the main problem; stealing land, water; assassinating Palestinians that show leadership potential; co opting the process of designating "terrorist groups" of anyone not endorsing the expansion of Israel.