Turkey Uncensored: Why Are the Jews Leaving Turkey?Thursday, June 15, 2017
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently delivered a blistering speech in Istanbul, calling Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Arabs “racist and discriminatory.” He also said that the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip “has no place in humanity.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish population of Turkey – which has for decades been exposed to discrimination, as well as various forms of pressures and hostility – continues to decline. According to the 1927 census, there were 81,392 Jews in the country. Today, there are fewer than 15,000. And the situation is only worsening. Approximately 6,200 Jewish citizens are preparing to leave Turkey, according to a recent report by Forward news outlet.
“Due to deaths and emigration, there are now 450 fewer Jews [in Turkey] this year,” wrote Mois Gabay, a columnist for the Turkish-Jewish weekly Şalom in October. He said that this phenomenon is due not only to the aging community and decreasing birthrate, but also to “the traumas that every Jewish generation has endured” in Turkey.
Avlaremoz, a Turkish news website that reports on Jewish-related issues, conducted an online survey in which readers were asked to choose “the most anti-Semitic incidents of 2016.” The outlet noted that “last year in Turkey was a year filled with anti-Semitism.” The results of the survey also demonstrate why the already tiny Jewish community in Turkey continues to dwindle:
1. The office of Istanbul’s mufti referred to a location as “a filthy Jewish neighborhood.”
In December, the office of Istanbul’s mufti – an official of Turkey’s state-funded Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet in Turkish) – said the location of a mosque in Istanbul was previously in “a filthy Jewish and Christian neighborhood.”
The depiction appeared on the official Web page of the Istanbul mufti in the section titled “Our historic mosques.”
2. An AKP MP accused Jews of staging the July 15 coup attempt.
Burhan Kuzu, a member of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a former chairman of the Constitutional Commission of Turkey’s Parliament, claimed on national TV that he knew who was really behind the July 15 coup attempt of last year:
Three American agents are involved in this. All of them are originally Israelis – I mean Jewish. So there is a very different project behind this. America is ruled by Israel or, to put it more correctly, by the Jewish lobby. By Israel, I mean the Jewish lobby: 40 or 45 percent of the most powerful media belongs to them. They also own [a large portion of] the capital and intelligence units. Why did they kill Kennedy? For Kennedy was a friend of Turks.
In two minutes, Kuzu – who is also a constitutional law professor – managed to incorporate almost all of the classic anti-Semitic stereotypes regarding the Jewish people into his response to a question. He also offered his view of “Israel’s distortion of the Torah:”
This is a plan of Israel. It wants to turn Turkey into a mandate. Israel has changed the Torah. The distorted passages of the Torah say that Allah promised the Euphrates River to the children of Israel. That is it. So Allah has no other business than taking care of your title deeds and tells you, God forbid, that “this land is yours.”
3. Consultant of Erdoğan: “Don’t enroll your children at Gülen’s schools. There, you will raise soldiers for the Jew.”
Şeref Malkoç, one of Erdoğan’s consultants, attended an event organized by the Esenler Municipality in Istanbul to commemorate Turkey’s former Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, who died on February 27, 2011.
In his speech, Malkoç said:
An important section of our friends take their children from [Islamic] Imam Hatip schools and enroll them at different schools. Some enrolled them at the schools of the parallel structure [the Fethullah Gülen movement]. The Hodga [Necmettin Erbakan] gave advice to those who went to him. He said, “Do not enroll your children at those schools. Don’t do that. There, you will raise soldiers for the Jew.” He said that in 1997 and 1998.
Erbakan – who was also one of Erdoğan’s mentors – never accepted the term “moderate Muslim,” and publicly claimed that “being a moderate Muslim means being a slave to the Jew.”
He explained in a public speech, “What does ‘moderate’ mean? It means that a moderate will not have a consciousness of jihad. He won’t get involved with the system. He will be a slave to the Jew, but will do his salah [five daily Islamic prayers], and fast. The system, however, will be regulated by the Jew. The moderate will pay for the goods and everything to the Jew. But do you want to do your salah? You can. Pay the money and do your salat.”
4. Anti-Semitic advertisements in Istanbul.
The Istanbul neighborhoods of Kurtuluş and Feriköy were plastered with anti-Semitic posters last November. Those posters read, “Do not be deceived by the missionary activities of the Jehovahists, who are the servants of the Jew. Wake up, hey my Muslim brother! Don’t be the captives of others’ opinions! These people are trying to destroy the religion of Islam.”
The posters also quoted the Quranic verse that reads, “Indeed the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam.”
5. Anti-Semitic insults at a Jewish wedding in Edirne.
Forty-one years after being closed, a synagogue has been reopened to worship in the province of Edirne. A wedding conducted by İshak İbrahimzadeh – the leader of the Jewish community in Turkey – was streamed live on Periscope. The comments to that post included several anti-Semitic swearwords and insults by Turkish viewers. Some of the messages included:
“We are all Hitler.”
“You are woods of hell.”
“If there had been no Hitler, Israel would be everywhere today.”
“One of my biggest dreams in life is to kill a Jew.”
“Hitler was a great man.”
Before the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the Jewish population of Edirne – for centuries a home to Jews – was 13,000. This was reported in an essay titled The Jews of Edirne by Rifat Bali, an independent scholar specializing in the history of Turkish Jewry. In 2014, the Jewish population of Edirne was two.
This decline in population was due to many anti-Semitic pressures against Jews by the Turkish government, as well as by the public, such as the anti-Jewish pogrom that took place in the city in 1934.
6. According to the official dictionary of Turkish Language Institution, Jew means “deceitful.”
According to the official online dictionary of Turkey’s state-funded Language Institution (TDK), the Turkish word “Çıfıt” which comes from the Arabic word “Jehud,” means “Jew.” Another meaning of the word is “deceitful” or “fraud.”
7. Cemetery desecrated by “unknown assailants.”
The Jewish cemetery in the southern Turkish city of Hatay was attacked by “unknown assailants” in June. The cemetery wall was broken, the gate was torn down and the gravestones were damaged. The cemetery contains the graves of Jews and Armenians as well as Muslims.
Hatay, or Alexandretta, where the ancient district of Antioch (Antakya) is also located, had large Jewish communities for centuries.
However, archeologist Jozef Naseh – the former head of the Antioch Greek Orthodox Church Foundation – said last October that there are no Jews left in Hatay, and that the remaining Christians in the city are threatened.
8. Anti-Semitic tweets on the football match between Turkish and Israeli football clubs.
During the draw for the UEFA Europa League on December 12, the Turkish team Beşiktaş was paired with the Israeli Hapoel Be’er Sheva Football Club.
Many Turkish anti-Semites quickly took to Twitter to spew their Jew-hatred, saying (among other things) that they would “f***” what they called “Jewish sperm,” “Jewish dogs,” “Jewish bastards” and “Jewish Israel.”
Some of the tweets included:
“We will write ‘champion Beşiktaş’ on Jewish sperm.”
“You will say ‘Mr. Beşiktaş who f***s Jews.’”
“Do not return without raping the Jewish bastards. Wish you success, Beşiktaş.”
“Hey Israel, we are coming to f*** your mothers.”
“We drew Hapoel. There will be +18 Jewish porn. Nice lots.”
9. Selling of Mein Kampf in supermarkets.
Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf shot to the bestseller lists when it became available in Turkish bookstores. In March 2016, it was put on the market again – this time not only in bookstores, but also in supermarkets.
When more than 10 publishing houses simultaneously printed Mein Kampf in 2015, making it an instant bestseller, Silvyo Ovadya, the former head of the Turkish Jewish community, said:
It is bad that this book is sold with a low price and with discount campaigns. The whole world knows about Hitler’s views. Seeing this book on the front shelves at bookstores disturbs me. We expressed our disturbance to all bookstores. But they did not stop selling the book, despite our disturbance. They look at this from a commercial perspective. The selling of this book shows anti-Semitism is on the rise. Of course it does not mean that everyone who reads it is a fascist, but it is very bad that they are trying to arouse people’s interest in this book.
10. Anti-Semitic messages on the airing of the worship at İştipol Synagogue.
A historic synagogue in the Istanbul neighborhood of Balat was reopened after 65 years in January 2016. The live airing of the first worship on Periscope received many anti-Semitic comments from Turkish viewers.
The chronic plight of Jews in Turkey
It is commonly stated that Turkey has harbored Jews since Ottoman times. But the Jewish presence in Turkey goes back to much earlier times. “Jews, in fact, had inhabited this land long before the birth of Mohammed and the Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries, or for that matter, the arrival and conquests of the Turks, beginning in the 11th century,” wrote professor Franklin Hugh Adler.
Despite their long-rooted presence in the region, Jews in Turkey – regardless of their economic or social status – are often subject to pressures or attacks, forcing many of them to be “invisible” or silent.
In 2012, for example, Can Bonomo, a Jewish citizen of Turkey, represented the country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Journalist Burak Bekdil described the atmosphere in Turkey following the selection of Bonomo to represent Turkey: “The massive protest messages on social media and their hateful contents over Mr. Bonomo’s nomination were a bitter reminder that Turkey is still a century away from the maturity of ignoring a fellow citizen’s faith.” Bekdil also mentioned “Mr. Bonomo’s shy refusals to comment on his faith in several interviews.”
Selin, a 22-year-old Jewish university student from Istanbul, told Avlaremoz about why many Jews in Turkey have to conceal their Jewishness in public: “As we are a minority, we have always experienced difficulties. We have never been as comfortable as the majority. I noticed it more when I started university. As I studied at a Jewish high school, I did not have a very difficult time there. But at university … we [Jews] had to hide ourselves [our Jewish identities] when we met people.”
Anti-Semitism in Turkey could be analyzed in two categories: Xenophobia in the Turkish nationalist mindset, and hostility to Jews in the Islamic mindset. And these mindsets have for decades shaped Turkish politics – both during the 1923–1950 one-party period of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the multi-party period from 1950 and onward.
Dr. Andrew Bostom, an expert of Islamic law, wrote in his 2008 book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History:
Ataturk’s regime and the CHP-lead Republican governments of his successors manifested their own discriminatory attitudes toward non-Muslims, generally, including specific outbursts of anti-Semitic persecution – most notably the Thracian pogroms of July 1934. But since 1950, both the Turkish press and Islamic literature have steadily increased their output of theological Islamic anti-Semitism – founded upon core anti-Jewish motifs in the Koran, hadith and sira.
Since then, nothing has changed concerning the treatment of Jews in the country. The chronic plight of Turkey’s small Jewish community is still ongoing.
Journalist Miriam Raftery wrote in her 2015 article entitled “The rising global tide of anti-Semitism,” “Where is the international media attention, the global outrage, over the cold-blooded murders and systematic efforts to terrify Jews around the world?
“Even in the U.S., many Americans are unaware of the blood being shed by Jewish people under attack across Europe, or their near-extermination in the Middle East. What can be done to reverse this rising tide of violence, hate crimes and intimidation targeting Jews?” Raftery also urged “people of good faith everywhere to commit … to break the apathy and silence and to stand up and speak out against history’s oldest hate wherever it rears its ugly head.”
This seems to be the ethical response to anti-Semitism on an individual level. But for countries such as Turkey – where anti-Semitism has become a norm almost everywhere, from government institutions to dictionaries and printing companies − speaking out against or stopping anti-Semitic attacks appears to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.