Can the Turkish opposition kick out Erdogan?

A few months back, I had a pleasant lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Dupont Circle with representatives of a nascent Turkish political party, TDH. The party billed itself as a Western-oriented alternative to the ruling AKP party -- and also as more dynamic and forward-looking than the CHP, the opposition party that has been the traditional home of secular Turks. It turned out to be a short-lived venture: Today, party leader Mustafa Sarigul announced that he was abandoning his plans to establish TDH as an independent political party, and would throw his support behind the CHP is Turkey's 2011 general election.

Sarigul suggested that international and domestic developments -- a reference to Prime Minister Erdogan's vociferous criticism of Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla disaster and the recent flare-up of Turkish-Kurdish tensions -- were the reason TDH leaders had to "act as statesmen and unite" with opposition groups. The real reason, however, probably has more to do with changes in the CHP, and within Turkey's political climate. After the resignation of CHP leader Deniz Baykal following a sex scandal, his replacement, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has mended bridges with Baykal's old rivals -- including Sarigul.

Just as importantly, the Turkish opposition seems to have gained new life. Two recent polls found that the CHP was polling at its highest level in years, now receiving the support of approximately 30 percent of Turks. There are a variety of possible reasons for this improvement in the party's fortunes: the new leadership of Kilicdaroglu, Turkish anger that the AKP's much-celebrated "Kurdish opening" failed to achieve results, discontent over Erdogan's Middle East adventurism, and double-digit unemployment in a job market that still has not turned the corner following the international recession. Whatever the reason for the CHP's revival, its newfound strength makes it unlikely that there would be political space for a nascent party such as TDH to establish a foothold.

The 2011 election is still a year away -- a lifetime in politics. But it looks like the Turkish opposition is going to enter campaign season unified and energized in a way that must have Erdogan sweating.



Dutch police go undercover as Jews to bust anti-Semites

When hate crimes strike the Dutch capital, the police officers head to the costume store. Amsterdam's law enforcement regularly disguises themselves as members of a persecuted faction, patrols the streets incognito, and then arrests any violent perpetrators they encounter. In response to a spike in muggings, officers posed as pensioners and "grannies"; to combat harassment of the homosexual community, officers of the same sex acted affectionate in public. Now Dutch police will go undercover again -- this time with the earlocks and black top-hats of ultra-orthodox Jews.

Proposed by a Dutch Muslim legislator, the new James Bond-like approach to fighting anti-Semitism comes in the wake of a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks, reportedly instigated most frequently by Moroccan immigrants. The Jewish population in the city, numbering at 40,000, has indeed seen these attacks double from 2008 to 2009 - an increase attributed in large part to the Gaza Strip military offensive in January of 2009. Reported incidents range from punishable internet hate speech in the region to verbal tormenting and severe physical assaults on the streets.  This past weekend, a Jewish broadcasting company followed a skullcap-donning rabbi through city streets with a candid camera; the footage revealed many young men shouting ethnic slurs at the rabbi and gesturing with Nazi salutes as he passed by.

A debate persists in the city over whether the police force's proposed clandestine operations are really capable of tackling the underlying prejudice festering in Amsterdam, or whether they merely reify superficial stereotypes and circumvent the rudimentary issues at stake. Many -- the former city mayor among them -- argue that awareness and education is the expedient solution. Either way, with the Jewish community suffering the brunt of mounting violence in Amsterdam, it probably couldn't hurt for an otherwise oblivious citizen to walk a mile in a rabbi's kippah - even if just while on patrol.

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