Turkey boosts security for Jews

Local Jewish community exhibits solidarity with flotilla fatalities.

June 3, 2010 05:56
3 minute read.
Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a demonstra

Turkey protest flag burning 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Though hundreds of Turks protested against Israel for the third day on Wednesday, the Turkish Jewish community seems to have scored an important success by publicly distancing itself from the Jewish state and the violent hatred aimed at it.

Following the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla, Turkey’s Jewish community and chief rabbinate expressed their sorrow over the “military operation against the Mavi Marmara ship” and the “loss of life and injury resulting from the operation,” in a joint statement on the community’s official Web site, musevicemaati.com.

“We share the public reaction this operation has created in our country and express our deep sorrow,” the statement read.

In addition, during an interview with Israeli haredi radio station Kol Barama on Monday, Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva repeatedly praised the regime’s attitude toward its Jews, while softly condemning Israel for its recent operation, to the native-Israeli interviewer’s surprise.

Turkey maintains strict separation between religion and state, and Jews there consider themselves Turks, which might strike some Israelis who automatically fuse religious and national identity as odd.

The results of Turkish Jewry’s public voice were apparent in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Tuesday speech on the raid: Even as he slammed Israel’s “bloody massacre... deserving of any kind of curse and condemnation,” he not only praised his Jewish subjects for their loyalty, but spoke out against any hostilities toward them.

“I thank the Turkish Jewish community, putting in words their right and sincere reaction to the event,” he said. “Our Jewish citizens have, as members of the Turkish people, defended, and continue to defend, the right position of Turkey to the utmost.”

He added that “looking with hatred upon our Jewish citizens... is not acceptable; it cannot be and should never be.”

On Wednesday, Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay said security had been stepped up at 20 different sites alone in Istanbul, which has several synagogues and centers serving 23,000 Jews.

Nonetheless, it is likely that beyond their loyalty to the state, any other public sentiment by the Jewish community in Turkey would only have exacerbated the hostilities they face from the majority-Muslim population.

“The situation in Turkey is very difficult for the Jews now,” Eyal Peretz, chairman of Arkadash – The Turkish Community in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“The atmosphere on the streets is hostile, and there is a feeling of anger,” he said, noting that the Israeli institutions in Turkey had been closed.

Peretz noted the link that Islamists in Turkey made between Jews and the State of Israel, and pointed out that Erdogan’s statements would carry weight on the Turkish street in helping to curb violence toward Jews.

Still, he added that “the Jewish community in Turkey, which has always tried to culturally assimilate into the general society and maintain a low profile, is now perplexed and helpless.”

Peretz noted that Jews in Turkey also served in the military there, paid taxes, and generally considered themselves Turks.

“We Israelis understand the need for an operation against the boats, but how would we feel if Israeli civilians were killed by the Turkish military?” he asked.

Those sentiments notwithstanding, “in every confrontation between Israel and Muslims, since the state’s inception to this very day, the Jewish community in Turkey has felt a backlash of hostility to varying degrees, especially from the more religious factors in the Turkish populace,” Peretz said.

“Accordingly, there have always been waves of aliya from Turkey after Israel’s wars,” he added, predicting another imminent one in the wake of recent events.

AP contributed to this report.

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