Turkey’s Jews are pleased that, for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment in being chosen to compete with singers from other European countries – at least not the Jewish part.
“We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, antisemitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA.
Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew.
“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the Aksam news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey. I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”
Prior to his appearance on Aksam, radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.
The anchor framed her question this way: “People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.”
The intimation that the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., which makes the Eurovision selection, would kowtow to pro-Israel groups seems a little bizarre with Turkey’s moderate Islamist government doing its best to distance itself from Israel. One of the crises that fuelled the current tensions between the two countries, in fact, was the broadcast in 2010 on state-run TV of a drama series that portrayed Israelis as harvesting organs from Iraqis.
It is true that Bonomo’s selection for the annual contest, which is being held this year in Azerbaijan in May, has sparked a glint of hope in Turkey’s 20,000 Jews, who have watched anxiously as their country’s historically strong relations with Israel have deteriorated.
“It is the first time in history that a talented young Turkish Jewish singer will represent Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest,” Derya Agis, a scholar of Turkish Jewish culture and history at Brandeis University, wrote on her Facebook page. “Turkey will show the importance of diversity in Europe where antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia have been problems since centuries.”
Or, put a little less academically by Denise Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community: “A Jewish boy is going to represent Turkey!” she told JTA. “We’re all very proud.”
Saporta downplayed the attacks on Bonomo, saying they are typical of political factions that deride minorities in general and are not representative of Turks.
“This always happens with ‘firsts,’” she said. “If he were anything other than a Sunni Muslim male – a woman, even –these media would attack.”
Going by his Facebook fan page, Bonomo has a solid following among Turks of all stripes. The video of the Aksam interview drew hundreds of comments supporting him. One fan, Osman Kural, denounced the “radical, right wing agitprop,” and said it “in no way represents all of the country.”
Bonomo, 24, oozes hip, with his retro caps and his blazer over T-shirt look. His Twitter biography describes him as “musician/illustrator/writer/drunk/bast’E’rd. (– Chill dude).” (His facility with English is another factor riling Turkish ultranationalists.)
EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style.” The Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles are listed by the site as his influences. His vocals incorporate the rising and falling quartertones typical of his country’s music, and are set against throbbing drums and guitar and oud riffs.