Connect to share and comment

Turkish Jews feeling the heat

The Gaza flotilla raids made life a lot harder for Jews in Turkey.

According to a poll published by the pro-government Yisrael Hayom daily recently, 78 percent of Jewish Israelis now view Turkey, once Israel's only Muslim ally in the Middle East, as an enemy nation.

The fear is that the backlash over Israel's interception of aid ships headed for Gaza earlier this week would provoke anti-Semitism in the Muslim-majority nation. Public anger in Turkey is burning and Seyla Benhabib, a Turkish Jewish professor of political science and philosophy at Yale, says Turkey’s Jews are feeling the heat.

“I think that what Israel did was immoral, and highly illegal, but the Turkish government are pulling up forces in society that they can’t control,” Benhabib said. “They are playing with fire.”

Following the attacks, the Jewish community here released a statement expressing their grief over the military operation.

“We share the public reaction this operation has created in our country and express our deep sorrow,” the statement read.

In an interview later that week with Israeli radio station Kol Barama, Turkish Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva praised the government’s attitude toward its Jews, while condemning, in muted terms, Israel’s recent operation.

“They want to emphasize how much they share with the Turks; they feel that if they stand out too much they will be hit on the head,” said Fatma Muge Gocek, a Turkish-born sociologist at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

It didn’t take the flotilla incident for Turkey’s Jews to realize that they needed to reach out. This past March the community, led by Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, launched a project to introduce themselves, and their culture, to their non-Jewish neighbors. Funded through the European Union, the project is still in its early stages, but has never been more necessary.

Increasingly Muslim Turks are trading only with other Muslim Turks, explained Reisman, forcing Jewish textile businesses and other industries to close their doors.

“As long as the Sunni majority in Turkey is unwilling to critically reflect on its past, and recognize the discrimination and prejudice that all non-Muslim minorities suffer under them, then it is going to be very difficult for the Jewish community to sustain itself,” Muge Gocek said.