Throughout the centuries, the sultans of Ottoman Turkey never issued edicts, firmans or fatwahs against the Jewish people living in their dominions. In the modern Republic of Turkey, the same holds true. Yet, an alarming situation existing today threatens to change the historic course of Turko-Jewish relations. The Turkish Muslims, long known for their hospitality and peacefulness towards the Jewish people, are quickly being radicalized by the introduction of Nazi-inspired Arab zealotry against the Jews.
Shelomo AlfassaShelomo Alfassa is the former director of the US Campaign for International Rights and Redress for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.
With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, the Jews continued to remain close to the Turkish people. In 1923, President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared, "Our country has some elements who gave the proof of their fidelity to the motherland. Among them, I have to mention the Jewish element; up to now, the Jews have lived in happiness and from now they will rejoice and will be happy."
Today, the tide is turning, and the Turkish land that for so long remained a bastion of peace for the Jews is rapidly becoming a playground for the Islamofascists that feed off of ferocious propaganda being disseminated from Arab countries and Iran. Attacks, violence and anti-Jewish graffiti is becoming more and more common in Turkish cities. Pro-Iranian ideas have infiltrated Turkey, a country that has been a time-honored adversary of the Persian nation. The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs stated in the Chicago Sun-Times last week that "Turkey has adopted the role of defending Islam against the West, defending Iran...."
Both Al-Qaeda and Hizbullah terrorist organizations exist in Turkey, despite a crackdown a few years ago in which security forces arrested 3,370 of their members. Yet, after the 2003 Istanbul synagogue bombings perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, Turkish newspapers declared that "a majority of the Turkish people and its media believe that the bombings were carried out by some Western intelligence agencies...."
Recurrently, Istanbul and other major Turkish cities are witness to large-scale protests like those you expect to see in Beirut, Cairo or Tehran. Thousands of marchers organize and protest in the street against Israel with people chanting, "Wake-up Muslims" and "Devotion to Hamas." They carry banners reading, "Israel commits crimes against humanity." These protests are led by Arabs who have migrated to Turkey, as well as newly Arab-inspired Turks. They burn Israeli flags and shout "Murderer Israel!" At one recent protest, a man with a loudspeaker warned that Turkish Muslims would turn against Israel: "God willing, all of Turkey will show in coming days that it is behind Palestine!"
Turkey is a country that has always been cordial with the Jews, as well as with the State of Israel, but times are changing rapidly and the Jews there shouldn't remain with blinders on. Turkish Jews live in an Islamic country where, for the last few decades, they have seen the verbal and physical manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred on the rise. And while some Jews remain active in politics, most remain in a purposeful low-profile mode, knowing they are the potential targets of Islamic radicals. While some are keenly aware of the problem and have emigrated to Israel, most remain in denial and refuse to flee.
Islamic jihadists both in Turkey and throughout the Muslim world continue to preserve the teachings and vitriol of Adolf Hitler and his Islamic cohort Amin Al-Husseini, the worldwide Arab leader during World War II. During the war, Nazi agents encouraged Arab nationalists to travel to Germany and to study there, while movie theaters in Beirut, Aleppo and Damascus screened German propaganda films and newsreels. As time went on, Nazi ideas diffused into the Arab world. Hitler's Mein Kampf was published in Arabic and today - over six decades post-Hitler - it has become a bestseller in the Arab world and Turkey.
Blame and hatred of Jews appeared in the Vakit, a daily Islamist newspaper in Turkey. Notably, an interview was conducted in April 2006 with Ibrahim Sen, a purported Turkish prisoner that claimed to be held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Sen claimed he was arrested while studying Islamic studies in Afghanistan, and that he was transported and tortured by American soldiers. His interview became an inciteful anti-Jewish diatribe when he declared that Guantanamo "was filled with Jews," and that "a rabbi was present at interrogations."
- "Torture time began. The Jewish commander Yasef said, while electrocuting my body.... After Iraq, Iran and Syria, it will be Turkey's turn."
- "Facing me were 10 soldiers with Jewish skullcaps on their heads, four women and six men, and a Turkish translator. ....One of the soldiers instructed the women soldiers to strip me. The women soldiers cut my clothes with scissors and left me... naked."
- "Ninety percent of the soldiers at Guantanamo wore skullcaps. They all had Jewish names."
- "There were also 15 rabbis in Guantanamo that we counted. At least one rabbi was present during interrogations."
Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva has stood up to the many journalists and politicians who have written both against him and his community. But his pleas for the anti-Jewish rhetoric to be halted have been met with stern warnings and threats. Comments from many different Turkish papers include the following statements and headlines:
- "Chief Rabbi's synagogues are Zionist bases."
- "Rabbi Haleva, if you do not stop Sharon, anti-Jewish voices may turn into anti-Jewish actions!"
- "These [Jews], who fled Spain's massacres and found shelter thanks to Ottoman tolerance, have carried out nothing but treason and plots on Ottoman territory, and have [always] carried out the ugly designs of Zionism on this [Turkish] land."
- "Turkish society and family values are being destroyed by the Jews. It is the Jews who are cutting off heads in Iraq."
- "The Jews are like a punching bag. Hit and hit, as much as you can. Punch as much as you want, with no fear, shame, respect or sense of boundaries. In any event, only about 15,000 Jews remain [in Turkey], and they have no voice to be heard."
While Hitler and his war machine have been long destroyed, the abhorrent paradigm he created of turning Muslims against the Jews, in a most fanatical manner, is still alive and growing.
The author's family is of Turkish Jewish background. He was encouraged to write this essay by Jews who recently departed Turkey and were alarmed at the changes mentioned herein.
Special thanks to the Middle East Media Research Institute for their assistance on this article.