Representatives from Turkey's centuries-old Jewish community, which is believed to number around 24,000, expressed concern earlier this month over what they call a growing trend of anti-Semitism in the country in reaction to Israel's recent military operations in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli offensive killed over 1,200 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, according to records kept by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were also killed during the fighting. Turkish-Jewish academic Leyla Navaro was among the first to express fear about outbursts of anti-Semitism in Turkey. "Today, I am sad for myself. I am equally worried and scared.
To be frank, I feel worried, sad and scared for my country’s future, which is leaning toward racism,” she wrote. She noted that if someone did not put an end to this conduct, Turkey would condemn itself to great isolation. Then came a letter penned jointly by leading US-based Jewish groups and sent to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, expressing concern over “a wave of anti-Semitism” in the aftermath of Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza.
“Many recent incidents are gravely distressing to us. Protestors besieging the Israeli Consulate in İstanbul have expressed their hatred of Jews. Billboards around İstanbul are full of anti-Jewish propaganda posters. The door of a Jewish-owned shop near İstanbul University was covered with a poster that said, ‘Do not buy from here, since this shop is owned by a Jew.’ The defacing of an İzmir synagogue has brought about the temporary closure of all but one of that city’s synagogues,” said the letter, signed by leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
The letter was interpreted as a reaction to strongly worded statements by Erdoğan condemning the Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan reacted harshly to the offensive on various occasions and called on Israel to declare a cease-fire.
Many Jews around the world, including the Jewish community living in Turkey, said Erdoğan’s stern remarks may further accelerate the rise of anti-Semitism. Erdoğan, on the other hand, has stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity and noted that Jews had been welcomed in Turkey five centuries ago even through they had not been welcomed in Europe.
The Jerusalem Post, a Jewish daily, earlier this week quoted a senior Israeli official, without citing his name, saying that Erdoğan is encouraging expressions of anti-Semitism in his country by espousing biased views and wholeheartedly accepting the Hamas narrative of the recent Gaza fighting.
Turkey’s Jews, however, seem divided over concerns about a growing trend of anti-Semitism in the country. While one group claims that increasing anti-Semitism makes them anxious about their future, another group claims that they have never been subjected to maltreatment by Turkish society either before or after Israel’s assault in Gaza.
Şaul Cenudioğlu, a Jewish community leader in the southern city of Hatay, stated that he has no concerns about anti-Semitism in Turkey as a Jew, adding that he has never faced discrimination or maltreatment due to his ethnic or religious origins. “People who belong to different ethnicities or religions live in a fraternal atmosphere in Turkey. It is not possible to talk about any pressure on any individual,” he said.
Cenudioğlu also said he was deeply saddened by the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza. “Reactions against Israel over the Gaza assault are not groundless. Any human would react against the humanitarian crisis there. We don’t appreciate any attack regardless of where it comes from. I need to underline that Turkish Jews did not express the slightest support for the Israeli attack against Gaza,” Cenudioğlu remarked.
In nationwide demonstrations, thousands of Turks condemned Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip until Israel declared a cease-fire. Turkey’s reaction against the Gaza tragedy was not limited to street protests. Former and current members of the Turkish-Israeli Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group condemned Israel’s expanding military operation in Gaza, saying no excuse can justify Israel’s use of excessive force on defenseless Palestinians. At least 300 of 305 members of the group resigned in protest of Israel’s relentless attacks in the Gaza Strip.
Silvio Ovadya, the chairman of the Turkish Jewish Society, on the other hand, indicated in a recent statement that anti-Israel demonstrations in the domestic and foreign press in the wake of clashes in the Middle East had turned into anti-Semitism in Turkey. “We, Turkish Jews, are deeply saddened to see that there are attempts to insult our religion and show Jews as targets. We know that the administration of our country lends an ear to the calls of their intellectuals and people. The call of Prime Minister Erdoğan against anti-Semitism is an example of this,” read the statement.