Increases in Anti-American & Anti-Israeli Sentiment in Turkey following the Khashoggi & Brunson Cases

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak reviews the public discourse on Turkish social networks surrounding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from a Turkish prison, and the increased antagonism towards the US and its ally, Israel.

תמונת הכומר האמריקאי אנדרו ברונסון על גבי שטר הדולר, מתוך טוויטר.
Portrait of the American pastor Andrew Brunson on a dollar bill, from Twitter.‎

Reports concerning the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, and the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkish prison on October 12 drew the world’s attention to Turkey. As expected, Turkish social networks did not remain indifferent to these extraordinary events. Amidst the mixed reactions of the Turkish users, antagonism towards the United States and Israel stood out, and were common factors uniting the Turkish online community.

When Turkish authorities were updated about the disappearance of the Saudi opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the “cold war” between Turkey and Saudi Arabia returned to the headlines, with Syria being the primary issue that divides the two countries. While the Saudis consider Iran’s involvement in Syria to be unbearable, Ankara cooperates with Tehran and considers it a partner for advancing its interests in northern Syria, primarily maintaining the status of the Syrian rebels in their areas of control. In addition, Turkey, under Erdoğan’s government, provides political and military support to Qatar which is deeply enmeshed in crisis with Saudi Arabia. Turkey also hosts Saudi, Egyptian and UAE expatriates in its territory. The mystery surrounding the fate of Jamal Khashoggi added to the tension between the two countries, and social networks became a central focal point for the discussion about Khashoggi’s probable fate.

While there some voices who claimed that Khashoggi had been smuggled out of the consulate through a tunnel and then flown to Saudi Arabia for interrogation, most users assumed from the outset that Khashoggi had been murdered at the consulate, his body hacked into pieces, packed in suitcases and smuggled out of the consulate by the assassins. In either case, many users emphasized that the Saudi operation on Turkish soil was intended to humiliate Ankara because of its generally anti-Saudi stance, and especially for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. They demanded that members of Saudi diplomatic corps who were in Turkey at the time of the murder be imprisoned. The users called on the Turkish government to enter the consulate immediately, and put an end to the mystery surrounding Khashoggi, as eventually happened, but only when the Saudis granted permission.[1]

At the same time, conspiracy theories proponents disseminated the claim that the Saudis had murdered Khashoggi on orders from the Americans and Israelis who wanted to create hostility between the Arabs and the Turks. Some of them even claimed that Egypt and the UAE cooperated with the murderers. [2] In order to ostensibly prove the conspiracy theory, users relied on a tweet by Israeli journalist Yossi Melman of Haaretz, who wrote that he hoped that the Israeli Mossad had not intervened in the murder of Khashoggi, similar to the assistance once supplied to Morocco with assassinating a rival of the administration in Rabat. [3]The discourse gained momentum after Melman deleted the tweet, which was perceived as a move by the Israeli government to attempt to obscure traces of its role in the murder. Many users emphasized the similarity between the Mossad’s assassination methods and those of the Saudis, but in the same breath they mocked the Saudis for their lack of professionalism, which led to their being caught, unlike the professionalism shown by the Israelis. As a way to “prove” an Israeli connection to the affair, users pointed out that Israel remained silent on the matter for a long time, and chose not to express a position.

As Turkish media and social networks focused on the mystery of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, was released from Turkish prison. Brunson, a missionary who had lived in Izmir for 23 years to spread Christianity among the local population, found himself at the heart of a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the United States when the Turkish government accused him of espionage. Brunson was jailed in October 2016 on suspicion that he had collaborated with adherents of Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government accused of masterminding the botched coup attempt of July 15, 2016. [4]Brunson’s name returned to the news when a Turkish citizen, Ebru Özkan, was released from Israeli prison last July, after being arrested on charges of aiding Hamas.[5] According to the Americans, the release of Özkan was made possible by the request of President Donald Trump, who expected Brunson’s immediate release from Turkish prison in return. But that did not happen. Meanwhile, Brunson’s trial became a battleground for a clash of egos between Erdoğan and Trump that was exacerbated when a Turkish court sentenced Brunson to 79 days of house arrest, opening Turkey up to US sanctions.[6]

Although many users expressed their support for the Turkish government’s position and its refusal to succumb to American pressure, there was a swell of complaints about the price increases caused by the collapse of the Turkish currency exchange rate against the US dollar, which reached an unprecedented low of 7.24 Turkish liras per dollar. Erdoğan’s supporters stressed that Turkey was under economic attack from imperialists, to include the United States and the “the Jews,” and that the time had come to unite against the threats, and strengthen the Turkish economy.[7] Many Turks called for a boycott of American products, and photographed themselves smashing iPhones, in an attempt to send a deterrent message to the American economy.[8] Conversely, other users protested against the Erdoğan administration, and explicitly called for Brunson’s release so as to end the episode that was causing such damage to the Turkish economy. Among other things, users shared a poster showing a dollar bill featuring a portrait of Brunson, in order to illustrate the connection between the economic crisis in Turkey and the Brunson affair. [9] However, others argued that the economic crisis was unavoidable and the Turkish government was using the Brunson case to create an artificial crisis vis-à-vis the United States, and thereby present the economic slump as a result of an American attack, rather than a result of the government’s failing economic policy.[10]

After Brunson was released by the Turkish authorities, Erdoğan’s opponents did not cease to attack the administration, and began a barrage of derisive reactions. They disseminated an image of Trump grinning, against the backdrop of a mosque in Istanbul, ostensibly celebrating the pastor’s release on Friday, October 12, and the greeting “Blessed Friday.” The image is similar to one shared by conservative users with Friday greetings. Erdoğan’s supporters, on the other hand, repeated the claims made the Turkish government, which emphasized that Brunson had been released because of a ruling issued by an independent Turkish court, and not because of American pressure. [11]

This online discourse exposes the intensification of anti-American sentiment among the Turkish public, with Israel also mentioned. This finding is consistent with a survey conducted last year by the Turkish Kadir Has University, which showed that 60% of the Turkish public views the United States as the main threat to the country. In the same survey, 54% ranked Israel as the second most serious threat.[12] While the release of the American pastor was supposed to reduce tensions between the United States and Turkey, the Khashoggi affair sharpened the conflicting interests of the two countries. The United States is striving to distance its ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from accusations of direct involvement in the Khashoggi murder, while Turkey is doing its best to deepen the investigation into this case, and link the murder directly to bin Salman in order to do unprecedented damage to the image of the Crown Prince.


[1] See the hashtag Suudi Konsolos, #Kaşıkçı.

[2]  İbrahim Karagül, "Cemal Kaşıkçı cinayeti bir DEAŞ zihniyetidir. O uçakla kaç ülkeden suikastçılar getirildi? BAE-İsrail sabotajı: Bu da Rus uçağı senaryosu mu?" Yeni Şafak, 8 October 2018.  Last accessed 22 October 2018.

[3] @Si3MiTCiLER,, 9 October 2018.  Last accessed 12 November 2018.  

[4] "Pastör Andrew Brunson kimdir: Türkiye-ABD ilişkilerinde kriz yaratan davada hüküm ve tahliye", BBC Türkçe, 12 October 2018.  Last accessed 22 October 2018.

[5] Amberin Zaman, "Israel frees Turkish woman accused of terror-related smuggling", Al-Monitor, 16 July 2018.  Last accessed 22 October 2018. 

[6] ABD'den Türkiye'ye yaptırım: Karar neye dayanıyor, bundan sonra ne olacak?, BBC Türkçe, 2 August 2018.  Last accessed 22 October 2018.

[7] @HalilObuz5,, 23 May 2018. Last accessed 1 November 2018.

[8] @GokhanBeker,, 15 August 2018. Last accessed 1 November 2018. 

[9] @asenaasla,, 12 October 2018. Last accessed 1 November 2018. 

[10]  @DrTerentius,, 12 August 2018. Last accessed 1 November 2018.

[11] @gokhankansizogl,, 15 October 2018. Last accessed 1 November 2018.

[12] "Türk Dış Politikası Kamuoyu Algıları Araştırması – 2018," Center for Turkish Studies, Kadir Has University.  Last accessed 12 November 2018.