The main focal point in Ottoman and Turkish antisemitism is the figure of the Dönme—the descendants of Jews who converted to Islam along with their messiah Shabbatai Tzevi. The focus on the Dönme arises from the perception of the Salonikan-based Young Turks as a cabal of Dönme, or secret Jews. It was immediately in the wake of the 1908 constitutional revolution—which culminated in the dethronement of Abdülhamid II, and ultimately led to the construction of the secular Turkish republic—that antisemitic conspiracy theories centering on the Dönme were first voiced. These arguments were expanded after 1923 to claim that the man who abolished the caliphate and established the secular state, the Salonikan Atatürk, was a Dönme. Turkish antisemitism was fed by Nazism and Turkish anti-Zionism from the mid 1920s to 1945, and was more openly articulated after the creation of Israel, but it remained a retelling of the events of 1908.

From 1908 to today, the Dönme character—a secret Jew hiding in the guise of the nation’s leader who surreptitiously aims to destroy Turkey on behalf of world Jewry—has been the stock figure in anti-government conspiracy theories promoted by Islamists dispossessed of their authority, extreme rightists, and secularists divested of their power. Antisemitic conspiracy theories gain traction among all elements of Turkish society based on the racist assumption that only a Turkish Muslim can have Turkey’s interests at heart, while a Jew—here the false convert, the secret Jew Dönme—can only serve foreign interests at odds with those of the Turks.