Years before the once liberal Turkish news outlet, Hurriyet Daily News, was bought by a pro-government businessman, it published material from a courageous journalist whose observations were astute and his style often funny. He hasn’t been a stranger to writing pieces that criticize his government and its leaders. He has even, at times, negatively contrasted it with the country that has been the ire to his governments’ supporters - Israel.
Later when addressing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing boldness in the face of corruption accusations, Burak Bekdil reflected on the Mavi Marmara incident, “It was not unintentional that Mr. Erdoğan declared a political war on Israel. In these lands, being a ‘jihadist’ is like a gratis full motor insurance policy with a bonus scheme: You speed and crash into a Ferrari [in this case - Israel], and someone else pays for all the damage. The bonus is that you are declared a hero for the crash. . . .”
Earlier this summer, Mr. Bekdil addressed the unconditional support that Turkey has for the Palestinian Arabs, including the terrorist organization Hamas, despite their having historically contributed to Turkey’s bloodied history by giving military and tactical support to the people who’ve attacked its citizens. “Turkey’s Selective Amnesia,” published by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), inspired me to search for answers to questions about the Turkish writer, who is an outlier in being critical of his government and the Palestinians [Palestinian terrorists].
Quintero: With the facts on the ground, the way they are now, what could be done to reverse this antagonistic trend [that Turkey has toward Israel]?
Bekdil: I don’t believe in any -ism, except realism. That realism is telling me there is not much to do to reverse this antagonism that appears to have been engraved in the modern Turkish memory. As it stands today, this antagonism is not just the dominant state ideology imposed by an authoritarian leader on innocent citizens who must accept it for fear of an Islamo-fascist regime. It has been accepted by a big majority of Turks, for different reasons; leftists erroneously hate Israel for ideological reasons, conservative Muslims hate Israel for religious reasons, others with no ideological identity hate Israel just because everyone else hates it.
It will probably take several generations before the Turks learn about their own history and rethink their hatred toward a nation that has never been hostile to them. When it was a young republic, Turkey was the first Muslim country that recognized the new-born state of Israel. Turkey’s dominant cultural demographics have changed significantly since 1948, against a secular, relatively pluralist flavour and in favour of a strictly majoritarian ideology that mixes Sunni Islamism and Turkish supremacy.
Quintero: Since I’ve been following you, I’ve thought of your journalistic integrity as heroic. Every time I cheer you on, I also worry. What inspired you to write the BESA article about Turkish amnesia - another seemingly risky piece?
Bekdil: The bitter reality. A feeling of hopelessness. A voice against the medieval ages. In times of darkness some people should sail ‘traverso,’ against the wind, and say what they believe is right. I am not a hero because I remain loyal to the truth. Most of my writings go unnoticed because I write in English.
I have nearly 200 colleagues in jail whose only crime was to say the truth, and in Turkish. They are the heroes. I know what I wrote about the “Turkish amnesia” will fall on deaf ears. A few English-speaking Turks must have read it, some of them may have agreed. The masses that bring and unseat governments by their right to vote will never be aware of what I wrote, or of their own history, with facts and figures. They prefer to believe in an official narrative based on fabricated history.
Quintero: What kind of reception do you get from your fellow citizens?
Bekdil: I need not say that I am not the favourite of the pro-government, Islamist media outlets. I have often been [verbally] targeted for being a traitor, a spy, an enemy within, a Zionist mercenary, a crypto Jew, Greek, Armenian, sometimes in big headlines, at other times in blogs where contributors suggest ways how best to eliminate me and my family. None of that is surprising.
An American friend once suggested I ask for police protection. My answer was: “Who will protect me from the police?”
There are only a few Turks who would agree with me when I write on the Arab-Israeli dispute. Most, Islamist or leftist, would rather condemn me. In Greece, my home away from home, the picture is not much better. The Greeks have their own reasons to be “intellectually anti-Israeli.” Not religious reasons, but reasons they adhere to. I cannot say my views on the Arab-Israeli dispute are welcome in Greece either.
Quintero: Why is it important to you to write in support of Israel?
Bekdil: I am not Israeli. I am not Jewish. I am not a crypto Jew. As far as I know I do not come from a Shabbetai [a medieval false Messiah who, to save his life, inadvertantly created a movement of Jews who converted to Islam, the Donmeh] family. I am only trying to be on the right side of history.
I have not found answers, yet, from Turks and others who oppose my views when I asked them a couple of very important questions:
- 1- Do you think Jews would be allowed to live in an Arab-majority country with the same rights as Arab Israelis who live in Israel?
- 2- Do you really believe there would be one single living Jew in the Middle East if Arab nations possessed the military might the IDF has today?
- 3- Can you imagine an Arab country where, among others, there are a few Jewish political parties and they are represented democratically in the Arab parliament?
This injustice in the intellectual world is sickening if one is on the side of justice. I am trying to write about what I think goes wrong in my country and its wider region. I am saddened by the general, prejudiced, Turkish and international opinion on the Arab-Israeli dispute. I shall keep volunteering to tell the truth.
Quintero: You write about the injustices imposed on journalists in your country. Being so aware of how reporting a truth that officials try to hide could lead to dire consequences for those who do the reporting, do you fear for your own safety?
Bekdil: Sometimes, especially when hate mail messages come in abundance. But after all if someone has decided to take action I cannot stop him. I hope what I get is just barking, and will not turn into biting. Again, I must point out I am not one of the brave Turkish journalists who are paying a big price. Until the day I do so, I shall remain lucky and grateful.
So far, the most successful threat against me has been in the form of censoring me. I am especially grateful to outlets that publish my work, perhaps at risk to them. This includes BESA, The Middle East Forum, Gatestone Institute and a few other papers and think tanks - and now Arutz Sheva in this interview..
Quintero: How do you feel about Turkey?
Bekdil: In spy stories there are people who betray their countries. No one has ever written a spy story in which a country betrays human beings. I feel betrayed. This is not the country I dreamed of. It’s not the country I once loved so dearly. I still do, but with great disappointment.
Quintero: What is the significance of dubbing the Hagia Sophia as a mosque? What will that do for Turkey and what for Turkey’s relation with global neighbors?
Bekdil: In typical Turkish black humor fashion, to reverse his declining popularity, Erdogan conquered his own city. This answer would take a whole page. I expanded on it last month in my Middle East Forum piece, “Hagia Sophia and Turkey's Supremacism.”
Quintero: What would you like to see happen within the realm of possibility?
Bekdil: As the great Cretan poet Nikos Kazantzakis wrote:
“I do not expect anything.
I fear nothing.
I am free.”
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He regularly writes for BESA, the Gatestone Institute and Defense News and is a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Faith Quintero is the author of Loaded Blessings, a family saga that alternates between Inquisition era Spain and modern-day Israel. It’s among the Federalist’s top books of 2019 list and a Montaigne Medal finalist for the Eric Hoffer awards. The Montaigne Medal is an additional distinction, awarded to "the most thought-provoking books."