Turkish Jews fearful after politician links diaspora to protests

Jewish community says Atalay's statement about diaspora being behind Gezi protests, could lead to reprisals against its members.

July 3, 2013 01:59
3 minute read.
The Neve Şalom (Shalom) synagogue in Istanbul.

Neve Shalom Synagogue in Turkey 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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ISTANBUL ­ Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly blamed the so-called "interest-rate lobby" and the international media for boosting the anti-government demonstrations that had started with a police raid on a small group of environmentalist protesters in Istanbul¹s Gezi Park on May 28.

But his government has pointed a finger at another alleged perpetrator on Monday. In a conference at the AK Party headquarters in the Central Anatolian province of Kžržkkale, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay named the "Jewish Diaspora" as the culprit in triggering the country¹s recent civil unrest.

In video footage released by the Cihan News Agency, Atalay said, "There are some circles that are jealous of Turkey growing so much. They are all uniting, on one side the Jewish Diaspora. You saw the foreign media¹s attitude during the Gezi Park incidents; they bought it and started broadcasting immediately, without evaluating."

After accusing the Jewish Diaspora for provoking the events via the foreign media, Atalay concluded by asserting that "The ones trying to block the way of Great Turkey will not succeed."

The AKP government has often been critical of Israel and the Israeli government's policies, but its targeting of "Diaspora Jews" is seen as a first by many in Turkey¹s small Jewish community.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Atalay¹s comment is a "classic anti-Semitic comment made by someone who apparently panics and loses self-control over the idea of street protest."

World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder harshly condemned Atalay¹s statement, saying that it was "shocking to hear from a senior Turkish government minister such despicable and totally baseless slurs."

"Mr. Atalay should have the decency to apologize," he continued. "His remarks are an insult not only to the Jewish people but also to the many Turkish citizens who took part in the protests and who have real grievances."

In Tuesday evening, Besir Atalay issued a statement in which he sought to clarify his words. He stated that his words were "misconstrued intentionally" by the news agency that covered the conference in Kirikkale.

"I made no accusation against Jews," Atalay said, "but I drew attention to the equity holders behind a foreign news corporation, which exaggerated the events. Otherwise, I would not say a word to hurt the Jews."

The video footage of the conference in which he utters the quoted words, however, is still widely available on Turkish news websites.

When reached for comments on Monday, the spokesman for the Jewish community in Turkey said that they are surprised by these remarks and they "do not want to comment before we can do a thorough fact-check on the wording and content of the whole speech."

The editor-in-chief of Shalom, the only Jewish newspaper in the country, similarly declined to comment.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, the community and the Chief Rabbinate issued a joint statement on their website, expressing "concern and regret" that "generalizations as such can be interpreted as including and targeting Jewish citizens of any country in the world, including us Turkish Jews." Various members of the community reached for comment also expressed disappointment at the accusations. Many spoke only on condition of anonymity, out of safety concerns.

"When I read the news, I was most disturbed by the word 'Diaspora,'" said Ceni Palti, an Istanbul resident and a member of the Jewish community. The 29-year-old clinical psychologist said that "We felt uncomfortable many times before but this was possibly unintentional, due to some people¹s inability to differentiate between Israel and the Jews. However, this [remark] is a first in terms of targeting us directly."

Others, however, noted that Atalay's words seemingly targeted American Jews more than the rest of the Diaspora. Conspiracy theories involving the influence of the "American Jewish lobby" on world affairs are very popular across the Middle East.

Herb Keinon and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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