Demand for Jewish condemnation elicits limited backlash in Turkey

Jewish academics, media figures and authors argue that they have no obligation to comment on “Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.”

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Several prominent Turkish Jews reprimanded their government over calls for their community to denounce Israeli military action in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In the open letter, published on the website of the Hurriyet Daily News on Friday, the Jewish academics, media figures and authors argued that they had no obligation to comment on “Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.”
“No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all,” they wrote.
Senior Turkish officials and government friendly media outlets were highly critical of Israel during the conflict, engaging in rhetoric that Jewish groups abroad have decried as anti-Semitic.
“I talked with our Jewish citizens’ leaders… and I stated that they should adopt a firm stance and release a statement against the Israeli government. I will contact them again, but whether or not they release a statement, we will never let Jewish people in Turkey get hurt,” Prime Minister Erdogan told the Daily Sabah newspaper.
Erdogan’s demand for Turkish Jews to denounce Israel, as well as his comments comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany and accusing it of perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians, serve as a veiled threat against their community, according to Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman.
“Asking the Jewish community to speak up about Israel reeks of anti-Semitism,” he accused in an op-ed in the Huffington Post earlier this month.
The Turkish letter writers seemed to agree, asserting that “it is racism to hold a whole people responsible for the actions of a state and we wish to declare that we are opposed to this.”
“In the same way the people of Turkey cannot be held responsible for the barbarity of what Islamic State does because a number of Turks are among its fighters, the Jewish community of Turkey cannot be held responsible for what the state of Israel does,” they explained, stating that it is impossible for a community of 20,000 to offer a unified opinion on any matter.
The writers, including columnist Soli Özel,writer Roni Margulies and economist Cem Behar, stated that they were “opposed to the Israeli state’s policies on Gaza, not because we are of Jewish origin, but because we are human. We may not agree on all matters, some of us oppose all of Israel’s policies, some of us oppose some of them. But all of us are opposed to Israel’s aggression, militarism, expansionism and the violence it brings upon the Palestinian people.”
Turkey’s central Jewish communal body has remained silent during the conflict, continuing what Rafael Sadi, a Turkish expatriate who attended university with Erdogan, has called its “policy of silence.”
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Sadi explained that he believed the Turkish media had become a “free platform for anti-Semitism” and that Turkish Jews “prefer to keep their mouths shut because of their public safety and they are right to do this.”
Nimrod Goren, a scholar at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said that local Jews have a “very clear interest” in maintaining communal silence.
“We are not giving interviews for the time being and issuing press releases,” a spokesman for the community said earlier this month when asked to comment on Erdogan’s statements. The community did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.