Turkish Islamists rally against Israel
Turkish Islamists rally against IsraelReuters

A Turkish regional governor was accused Monday of inciting hatred towards the country's Jewish community, after suggesting a synagogue be turned into a museum as a reprisal for Israel's policies over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Dursun Ali Sahin, governor of the northwestern province of Edirne, sparked an outcry when he said Friday that the ancient Buyuk Sinagog (the Great Synagogue) built in 1907 under Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid should only be used as a museum.

"While those bandits blow the winds of war and massacre people inside Al-Aqsa mosque, we are restoring their synagogues," Sahin said, according to the AFP news agency.

"I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean the surroundings of their (Jewish) cemeteries and send their projects to committees. The synagogue here... will only be registered as a museum."

After an outcry, Sahin backpedalled and said the final decision on the synagogue’s future would lie with the government agency for historical heritage, the General Directorate of Foundations.

Sahin on Monday called Turkey's Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva to offer an "apology" over his remarks but also expressed his "profound sadness" that they were misunderstood and "distorted", the office of the chief rabbi said in a statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the governor had made a "mistake", assuring that the synagogue would not lose its status.

"While restoring the synagogue one cannot think about taking away its functions as a place of worship," Arinc said after a cabinet meeting.

"Mr. Governor made a mistake. I respect and appreciate him. He acted emotionally. We condemn the atrocities against the Al-Aqsa mosque but we cannot look to the Jews here with an evil eye," he added, according to AFP.

The synagogue in Turkey -- which served the Jewish community in Edirne until 1983 and a few years later suffered a roof collapse -- is being restored as an active place of worship.

"Edirne governor Dursun Ali Sahin must immediately step down after delivering a speech clearly instilling hatred and animosity," Turkey's Human Rights Association said in a statement.

The Jewish Community of Turkey and the Office of the Chief Rabbi said in a joint statement they were "concerned over such a statement expressed by a governor who represents the state."

Turkey has indeed seen a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes since the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist AKP party. Although violent attacks are still relatively rare, anti-Jewish incitement has become commonplace.

Just over a week ago it was revealed that American officials had expressed deep concern over the rising levels of anti-Semitism in Turkey, and a report late last year revealed that young Turkish Jews were leaving the country in droves as a result.