A climate of fear

"No Jews allowed, but dogs welcome," reads sign in Istanbul shop window.

By ABE SELIG
February 1, 2009 21:31
4 minute read.
A climate of fear

angry turks 248.88ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Ever since she was a kid, Sheila wanted to be married in Istanbul's famous Neveh Shalom Synagogue. "It's a very beautiful place," the 26-year-old told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "Growing up in Istanbul, all the girls want to to have their weddings there." But Sheila, who made aliya three years ago and lives in Jerusalem, said that given the dramatic increase in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in Turkey following Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last month, her dream wedding is turning into something of a nightmare. "I was engaged three months ago," said Sheila, who asked that her last name not be published out of fear for her family's safety, all of whom still live in the Turkish metropolis. "My fiance is Israeli, and his family no longer wants to go there for the wedding. On top of that, when my mother goes to the ministry offices [in Istanbul] to try and get the marriage forms filled out, they won't help her. They won't help her because she's Jewish." Describing a "climate of fear" in her former hometown, the Turkish immigrant said she will most likely cancel her wedding plans. "Frankly, I'm scared to have my wedding there now," she said. "On the one hand, yeah, it's my dream, but on the other hand, the situation there has simply gotten out of control." "Every day it gets worse," Sheila continued. "My parents told me that a shopkeeper near one of the Jewish neighborhoods, where my grandparents live, put a sign in the window of his store that said, 'No Jews allowed, but dogs are welcome.' "Even when my parents go to buy a phone card to call me, they get harassed by the shopkeepers the minute they say they're trying to make a call to Israel." Sheila also said that during the war, billboards went up around town decrying the Israeli "crimes" in Gaza, and the government made students in every Turkish school stand for a moment of silence in solidarity with the children of Gaza. "They even had to do it at the Jewish school I went to as a kid," Sheila said. "I can only imagine how uncomfortable the students must have felt." And while she admits that Turkish anti-Semitism was always a festering force somewhere in the shadows, Sheila said it's now reached levels unseen in her lifetime, or in that of her parents, and is spilling over into the streets. "Just look at the way they stood outside to meet [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan] when he came back from Davos," Sheila said, referring to the popular head of government's grand reception after his televised spat with President Shimon Peres. "He's the one to blame for this, he's rallying the poor and uninformed people behind his rhetoric, and they're buying it. We knew it would be bad the minute he came into the government, but we never thought it would be this bad." Sheila is not alone. Nathalie, also a new immigrant from Istanbul, lives in Tel Aviv. She agreed to speak to the Post, but also asked that her last name remain unpublished. "I'm going there on Friday," Nathalie said. "And yes, I'm a little scared." "I think this is the sign of Turkey moving toward a very dangerous future," she said. "Since the Gaza war started, the newspapers have been writing really nasty stuff and the demonstrations on the street have gotten really ugly. It's not just against Israel," she said. "they're demonstrating against Jews." "I think people are starting to think about leaving," Nathalie continued. "But then there are those who feel like it will calm down as well. I think the main thing to remember is that local elections are coming up in Turkey, and the prime minister is demonizing the Jews to rally more votes. It's like a classic anti-Semitic theme. But at the same time, there's such strong ties between Israel and Turkey, it makes you wonder if he's crazy. It doesn't make any sense." Itzik Behar, who made aliya from Izmir in 1948, agrees. "They need us more than we need them," he said, as he stood outside of a barber shop in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda Market on Sunday. "But I'll tell you the truth, I love Turkey, I used to go back all the time. But now, I wouldn't go there if you paid me." Behar cited two reasons. "First, it's because of the situation there now - I'd be afraid for my safety, as an Israeli and as a Jew. "But second, it's because of that fear. I'm really angry with the Turks. They always received me so well, and treated me like a brother - after all, I grew up there. But to see this on the news every night, the way they're demonstrating and being violent, I feel like they've turned on me, like they're traitors," Behar said. "They turned on all of Israel in a heartbeat, and I don't think many Israelis will forget that. Go to the airport and see how many Israelis are flying to Turkey today. No, you know what, I'll save you the trip. None. Zero."

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