Israeli-Turks watch relations crumble between their lands

Head of Israeli-Turkish center in Yehud says latest deterioration in relations is part of chain that began with Second Lebanon War.

Eyal Peretz_311 (photo credit: Gil Shefler)
Eyal Peretz_311
(photo credit: Gil Shefler)
Eyal Peretz, the head of the Arkadas Association, an Israeli-Turkish cultural institute, has been through this before.
After the flotilla incident last year, in which nine Turkish activists were killed during an Israeli raid on a boat bound for Gaza, the Israeliborn son of Turkish parents called an urgent meeting at its center in Yehud where he and other Israelis of Turkish descent discussed at length how best to explain the incident to the Turkish public and mend ties between the nations.
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This time around, however, with the unilateral downgrading of relations with Israel announced by Ankara earlier this week, he doesn’t bother.
“This is just an aftershock,” he said over the phone on Tuesday. “The big shock came after the flotilla.”
In recent years Peretz has seen his efforts to build bridges between Turkey and Israel crumble due to events out of his control.
“Relations between Israel and Turkey started to deteriorate during the Second Lebanon War,” he said. “Then there was Operation Cast Lead, then the flotilla, now this.”
His work has been directly affected. Arkadas ceased organizing Jewish heritage trips to Turkey two years ago due to security concerns and dwindling demand.
“I’m very angry,” he said.
“I’ve devoted most of my life as an adult to cultivate ties between the two people and I’ve seen how a warm relationship has been erased in one fell swoop. It’s very painful, very frustrating.”
Some 77,000 Israeli citizens were born in Turkey, according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Most, like Peretz’s parents, came to Israel during the 1950s and 1960s and settled in places like Bat Yam and Yehud, where one can still buy Turkish- style burekas and drink ayran in the city center.
Salim Amado, the former president of the Organization of Turkish Immigrants in Israel who made aliya from Izmir in 1972, said the recent round of confrontations between Israel and his country of birth has taken a personal toll on Israelis of Turkish descent.
“We’re hurt and angry and sad because we constantly tried to mend ties,” Amado said. “This is a blow to us because we wanted the opposite.”
At the same time, he said he believed Israel had “nothing to apologize for” and that it “conducted itself very well and hasn’t made any provocations or brought up issues sensitive to Turkey.”
Turkey’s Jewish community, which according to the World Jewish Congress numbers 23,000, has remained noticeably silent. Several attempts by The Jerusalem Post to interview leaders of the community failed. Amado, who is in close contact with friends and family in Turkey, explained their reluctance to speak to the press.
“They are Turkish citizens,” explained Amado. “No matter how often the government says their problem is with the Netanyahu-Lieberman government, not Israelis or Jews in general, the Turkish people don’t always understand, so they burn Israeli flags and there is massive security around Jewish institutions.
Let’s not forget the bombing of a synagogue in Istanbul in 2003 and the murder of a dentist in Turkey just because he was Jewish. If someone in the Jewish community were to speak up and say ‘our situation is not good’ who knows where he’d find himself the following day?” Ankara’s decision to expel Israel’s ambassador from the country was not the first time a Turkish government had taken such action. Alon Liel, a retired Israeli diplomat and expert on Turkey, remembers the last time Israel’s ambassador to Ankara was asked to leave 30 years ago during the First Lebanon War.
“Back then I was the second diplomat sent by the Foreign Ministry to conduct talks in Turkey and I saw how it affected the Jewish community in Turkey,” Liel said. “Usually, when relations with Israel are good the social state of the community – not necessarily the economic one - improves: The synagogues are open, the schools are open.
But when there’s tension the community goes underground.”
Meanwhile, Israelis and Turks are scheduled to clash again on September 15 – this time on the soccer field – when Maccabi Tel Aviv plays Beskitas in Istanbul.
“I don’t recommend that they go,” Liel said. “There’s a really tense atmosphere right now and there’s no reason to put soccer players at risk.”
Liel’s concern is not without reason. In 2009, at the height of Israel’s operation in Gaza, Israeli basketball team Bnei Hasharon was attacked by a Turkish mob chanting “death to Jews” during an away game in Ankara. The players took refuge in the changing room and the game was canceled.
Despite current tensions all those interviewed hoped relations between the countries would quickly improve.
Amado spoke fondly of his hometown Izmir where his father and brother are buried and which he visits often.
“The bottom line is we have no animosity toward Turkey,” he said. “No Jew in Israel from Turkey hates Turkey.
There’s just no such thing.”