Young Jews reportedly leaving Turkey 'due to political strains'

Rise in anti-Semitism related to tensions between Ankara and J'lem has led to current exodus, community leader says.

October 24, 2013 17:48
2 minute read.
Wreckage from the Neve Shalom Synagogue blast in Istanbul in November 16, 2003.

Wreckage from synagogue blast in Istanbul 2003 370. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)


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Turkey is beginning to experience a rise in Jewish emigration, says a leading figure among Turkish expatriates in Israel.

Nesim Güvenis, the deputy chair of the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hurriyet Daily News that political tensions between the two countries and rising anti-Semitism have contributed to an increase in the number of young people moving abroad.

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Güvenis made aliya in the early 1980s, along with tens of thousands of other Turkish Jews, primarily because of his children, he told the newspaper.

“They didn’t want to go to university where leftists or other groups were putting pressure on them to take sides at school,” he said.

A rise in anti-Semitism related to national tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem has led the current exodus, he said, declining to give exact figures.

“Look at the environment in Turkey at the moment. We are uncomfortable with being ‘othered’... I am more Turkish than many, but we couldn’t make them believe it,” Güvenis told Hurriyet.

Earlier this year the Neveh Shalom synagogue in Istanbul was revealed to be the target of an al-Qaida bomb plot, and in 2003 27 people were killed when two truck bombs were driven into Neveh Shalom and the Beit Israel synagogue.

The sexton of a local synagogue, speaking with The Jerusalem Post in April, stated that the community was strongly Zionist and that they believed themselves to be safe in Turkey, saying that their “security is strong.”

Despite that assurance, however, local Jewish leaders have frequently been reluctant to speak with the Israeli press, seemingly due to their country’s strained relationship with Israel.

Despite tensions between the two countries, there have been some efforts at the grassroots level to bridge the gap.

On Thursday Turkish and Israeli academics participated in the opening of the “first-ever joint Seminar in Turkey” according to Yad Vashem, one of the event’s organizers.

A joint initiative of the Aladdin Project, an NGO dedicated to Jewish-Muslim understanding, Yad Vashem and International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the program will bring together 20 academics at Galatasaray University in Istanbul for a series of lectures.

“This is an initial, although important step, given the significance of Turkish society in the Muslim world. At Yad Vashem we are witnessing interest in the Holocaust that traverses countries, religion and language. Our International School for Holocaust Studies is prepared to meet this challenge,” Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement.

After the program, which will involve several stages following the initial seminar, including an online course, the participants will implement Holocaust study curriculums in their respective educational institutions.

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