Inside Neve Shalom, Istanbul Synagogue
Inside Neve Shalom, Istanbul SynagogueIsrael news photo: HLJ

Turkey's Jewish community has rejected a claim by Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay that an anti-Semitic accusation against Jews was “taken out of context.”

Istanbul-based Turkish Jewish journalist Denis Ojalvo told Arutz Sheva in a phone interview Wednesday morning that if Atalay’s remarks were taken out of context, then “in what context were they?”

But Ojalvo, who writes a column for Shalom Gazette, the country’s sole Jewish weekly, said Atalay has never been heard to say anything anti-Semitic in the past. “Until now we never heard such statements from his mouth.”

Nevertheless, “When he says ‘the diaspora’ it is an amorphous’ term,” he said. “That’s a cabal. He thinks it is the Jews who run the media – but it is a general accusation. He was just expressing a stereotype, making an anti-Semitic remark out of general prejudice.

"There is no excuse to say such a thing. This is how the Jewish community feels,” Ojalvo explained.

The Turkish Jewish community posted a statement on its website this week in response to Atalay’s remark, saying, “We would like to express our concern that all Jews around the world, including Turkish Jews, may be a target because of such sorts of remarks, in almost every situation.”

In general, over the past several decades Jews in Turkey have become extremely cautious about drawing attention to themselves from the general population, and from the government. This fear has increased exponentially under the ruling AK Party, which other Jewish sources have told Arutz Sheva has intensified the Islamist atmosphere in some areas of the country.

Representing Jewish communities of 100 countries around the world, World Jewish Congress head Ronald S. Lauder issued his own statement as well. “It is shocking to hear from a senior Turkish government minister such despicable and totally baseless slurs,” Lauder said, according to AFP. Lauder called on Atalay to formally apologize, calling the remarks “an insult not only to the Jewish people but also to the many Turkish citizens who took part in the protests and who have real grievances.”

The furor began over remarks made at an AK Party conference on Monday, when Atalay accused the “Jewish diaspora” of triggering the recent nationwide protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“There are some circles that are jealous of Turkey growing so much,” Atalay said in video footage released by the Cihan News Agency. “They are all uniting, on one side the Jewish diaspora. You saw the foreign media’s attitude during the Gezi Park incidents; they bought it and started broadcasting immediately, without evaluating... The ones trying to block the way of Great Turkey will not succeed.”

Facing a firestorm of worldwide outrage, Atalay later said, “I do not make any statement that hurts Jews ... I very carefully select the words,” the AFP news agency reported. “I am upset that the statements I’ve made about Gezi Park have been deliberately distorted by a (news) agency,” Atalay said. “An accusation regarding the Jewish lobby or Jews is out of the question.”

The Gezi Park protests, which have continued off and on throughout the country for more than three weeks, were ignited by plans to remove the only remaining green area in Istanbul, Taksim Square’s iconic Gezi Park, in order to build a replica of an Ottoman artillery barracks and a mall.