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The Weirdest Editorial Line You'll See All Day

October 26, 2010

This post is a riff of of Rebecca’s previous post on the same subject. Hers is much more academically rigorous and should definitely be read first. So come back here after you’ve finished that.

Tablet Mag is a beautifully designed online magazine. Len Small seems to be their designer, and he deserves a tip o’ the cap. Neat font choice, easy to read, easy to navigate…it’s very well done. And it’s too bad that his style has been co-opted to some genuinely weird logic, because usually when you see bendy logic online, its well within the framework of a cheap design.

So Tablet Mag, under the editorial basis of “a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture” decided to do a “Turkey Week 2010” last week. Rebecca called it a “veritable goldmine” but I think it’s something a bit more than that. Their articles are on:

  • Food in the “Ottoman Empire” from France to Azerbaijan
  • Erdogan “losing control” of the Kurdish population
  • The AKP “alleging conspiracy to crush dissent”
  • “Israel to rethink its rejection of the Armenian Genocide”
  • “Talking Turkey: Inside the West’s Once-Ally”
  • “Kurds and Jews share a similar history and a common enemy”

So, uh, notice a trend?

Not just a trend, but the ugliest photoshop I’ve seen in a while, with feathering around the soldiers and relics of the Standard Photoshop Background in the transparencies of Gulen and Erdogan. For shame, Len Small, for shame.

The food one is just weird, as the author writes about the Jewish community of Azerbaijan through a government-sponsored food thingamajig which is bad because if we’re talking about restricting rights, well, hellooo Donkey Bloggers. Also, Azerbaijan securely a part of the Safavid Empire, to the effect of having Azeri Turkish Shahs. And the largest Jewish community in Azerbaijan is Quba. So we’re starting off on an ill-informed foot, here.

Not the best map out there, but I’m totally naming my rock band “Gunpowder Empire”

And though Aliza Marcus is a well-informed and very sharp journalist working with the Kurdish Minority, well, I mean, yeah. She really knows her stuff and, though I may disagree with her on some points, it would at least be a lively, interesting, and certainly civil discussion. She’s respectable, and I don’t think she wrote the last half of the piece attributed to her. She’s never that accusatory anywhere else I’ve seen her writing.

I’m not going to give every piece this sort of work, because most honestly don’t deserve it. It says a lot that the Editorial Board Piece says this:

In fewer than two years, Turkey has gone from America’s favorite example of a tolerant Muslim democracy and Israel’s closest Muslim ally to criminalizing dissent, arresting its domestic political opponents, and cozying up to Iran

If you seriously think that “criminalizing dissent” is at all a new thing, you have not even read the Wikipedia article on Turkey. To steal Mr. Collins’ phoenomenal graph (higher = less free):

In other words, Turkey is becoming more free over the medium term.

Look, I am going to go well out of my way to say: Turkey is deserving of lots of criticism. For lots of different things. The press in-country is full of lots of brilliant yet often handcuffed (some more literally than others) people. There are problems here.  The Gulenglish has taken an uncomfortable turn towards Prava-zation with discussion of national and parliamentary will.” Yet what Tablet Mag is doing is a disservice to these problems.

The AKP Government, in one of their more impressive feats of political ju-jitsu, has made an attack towards them an attack towards Muslims, as Ms. Berlinski has put in a recent piece. I give a mirthful smirk at this, because one of the (albeit many) criticisms towards Israel is that an attack on Israel is often taken as an attack on Jewry. Therefore, when the Tablet makes attacking Turkey part of its message of “Jewish news, ideas, and culture” then it only worsens the dialogue.

And more so, Tablet Mag is a pretty popular source of news in lots of the Jewish world. A lot of my Jewish friends sent me links to the Tablet Mag’s bit on Turkey on a sort of “Hey! You’re in Turkey, check this out!” sorta basis. So it’s also insulting to its readership to take this editorial stance, that the summer’s events have ” turned a powerful friend [that would be Turkey, of course] into a determined enemy.” Its insulting to preach peace and only show why you shouldn’t have peace.

And Tablet Mag is not just giving out news. As I said, it is proving this narrative how why Turkey is a “determined enemy.” So any claims of “just the facts, ma’am” is dishonest on principle. Tablet Mag is professing this narrative in order to fit into their idea of what the world is like. They shoehorn their Turkey coverage into discussing the inherent badness of the government without mentioning the numerous progessive steps that have been taken over the past eight (or two) years. The three hundred reasons why Turkey and Israel should be partners are ignored in favor of five reasons of why they should not, only two of them written by someone who Knows Their Salt. 60 years of cooperation between the countries has been ignored in favor of the past two.

If I was an editor of a Jewish-themed magazine, I would take this time to remind my readership that these are hardly intractable enemies. I would take the time to talk about Selahattin Ulkumen, Namik Kemal Yolga (who as a 26-year-old vice consul drove to the Drancy prison every day finding Jews who he could give Turkish citizenship to), or Necdet Kent, who:

got on the train [carrying Jews bound to concentration camp], too. The German official asked him to get off, but Kent refused. At the next station, German officers boarded and apologized to Kent for not letting him off at Marseilles; they had a car waiting outside to return him to his office. Kent explained that the mistake was that 80 Turkish citizens had been loaded on the train. “As a representative of a government that rejected such treatment for religious beliefs, I could not consider leaving them there,” he said. Surprised at his uncompromising stance, the Germans ultimately let everyone off the train

There are great and inspiring stories there. This is just three of them. But to ignore history and depth of coverage to write an ugly series on Why We Should Hate Each Other is deplorable. I may be biased because I have a deep and strong appreciation for the geographies of Israel and Turkey, if not always their governments. If I can enjoy both of the places, I don’t see why Tablet Mag cannot.

There are many fantastic news sources that are plenty crtiical of what’s going on, and plenty supportive as well. The always-thought-provoking Kamil Pasha talks about women in Turkey. Aengus Collins and Frederike Geerdink are absolutely brilliant, even if they both have too many vowels in their names. Istanbul Calling, by Yigal Schleifer, is at this point the old grey lady of Istanbul blogs (and he could maybe use one of those extraneous vowels).

Those are the places where you should come for news on Turkey. Well, ok, and maybe one other. But not Tablet  Mag. The “reporting” they are doing under a broken narrative is condemnable.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    October 26, 2010 1:56 pm

    It is true that recent developments have changed the American Jewish narrative on Turkey. That being said, the same could be said about Turkey’s recent sharp turn towards an anti-Israel stance. It was only recently that Turkey seemed to discover its old friend’s occupation of the lands claims by the Palestinians and decided to stand up on the world stage and proclaim it’s outrage.

    And of course, if we are talking about selective narratives, you could easily note that the current stance of the Turkish government is blinded to the many shared interests that Turkey and Israel have had and still share.

    In short, perhaps Tablet doesn’t have both side represented in its description of Turkey, but its very apparent that Turkey, its government and its press are guilty of the same sin when it comes to Israel.

    • Asher permalink
      October 26, 2010 4:01 pm

      Well, of course the Turkish press isn’t perfect. We have a whole tag dedicated to discussing the Turkish press:

      …and the Davos dustup was a political calculation by Erdogan to get domestic votes. I think that was the big changing point there, but I’m sure reasonable minds will say it was when the Turkish Ambassador to Israel was told to sit under the Israelis and have the flag removed from pictures. Mr. Schleifer has a good perspective of whats gone on the past few years:

      Turkey’s government can trend towards the petulant and hypocritical when it comes to Israel, Michael. I will not dispute that. But that does not make it ok for Tablet Mag to take an even lower road.

      • Shira permalink
        October 26, 2010 4:27 pm

        are you really comparing Turkey ignoring the Armenian genocide to Tablet Magazine publishing an article about yummy food?


      • Asher permalink
        October 26, 2010 5:14 pm



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