Leading Turkish Jews Protest Anti-Semitism

Turkish-Jewish intellectuals sign letter denouncing 'racist' targeting of Jews over Israel.

Ari Soffer ,

Anti-Israel demonstration in Turkey (file)
Anti-Israel demonstration in Turkey (file)

A group of prominent Turkish-Jews have released a letter in protest of the "racist" way in which they and the wider Jewish community has been targeted in response to Israel's military operation against terrorists in Gaza.

The letter, dated 30th August, was signed by leading intellectuals, including scholar and columnist Soli Özel, leftist writer Roni Margulies, economist Cem Behar and former radio host and activist Avi Haligua, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

The signatories claimed they were in fact opposed to Israel's actions, but said there was no excuse to hold the Jewish community to account for events happening "elsewhere in the world" and further insisted that either way Turkish Jews are entitled to hold whatever opinion they wish.

"Israel’s latest attack on Gaza led, once again, to cries of ‘Why does the Jewish community remain silent?’ A campaign was even launched that claimed that the Jews of Turkey bear responsibility for what Israel does in Gaza," read the letter.

"No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

"It is anyway not possible for a community of 20,000 to declare a unified opinion. No human community can be monolithic and the Jewish community is not. Its members include people of all kinds, with a great variety of views.

"In the same way the people of Turkey cannot be held responsible for the barbarity of what the Islamic State [of Iraq and Levent, ISIL] does because a number of Turks are among its fighters, the Jewish community of Turkey cannot be held responsible for what the state of Israel does. It is racism to hold a whole people responsible for the actions of a state and we wish to declare that we are opposed to this.

"We, the undersigned, are children of Jewish families in Turkey. It is incumbent upon us to express an opinion on the attack on Gaza precisely to the same degree that it is on any other citizen of Turkey, no less, and certainly no more."

The letter ended with a condemnation of Israel by the signatories, saying "Nonetheless, we wish to declare we are opposed to the Israeli state’s policies on Gaza, not because we are of Jewish origin, but because we are human. We may not agree on all matters, some of us oppose all of Israel’s policies, some of us oppose some of them. But all of us are opposed to Israel’s aggression, militarism, expansionism and the violence it brings upon the Palestinian people.”

Under the rule of the Islamist AKP party of former prime minister and new president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, anti-Semitism has risen steadily, prompting many young Turkish Jews to leave the country.

That rising hatred has been blamed on vitriolic anti-Israel rhetoric by Turkish leaders and politicians, which often spills over into anti-Semitism.

Israel and Turkey used to be close allies, even at the start of the AKP's rule. However, things soon turned sour as Erdogan drifted towards a "pan-Islamic" foreign policy, attacking the Jewish state regularly, including most notably when he stormed out of a TV interview with then-Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Relations reached an all-time low after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when the Marmara ship, which claimed to be providing "humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza," defied orders to turn around and dock at the Ashdod port. After it ignored repeated warnings to change course, the IDF boarded the vessel - only to be attacked by Islamist extremists on board.

The soldiers had no choice but to open fire, resulting in the deaths of nine of the IHH members on board.

After an investigation, Israeli authorities discovered the vessel to be carrying no humanitarian aid - in fact, no aid supplies at all - whatsoever.