The United States has expressed deep concern over anti-Semitism in Turkey, Ira Forman, the State Department's special envoy for combatting anti-Semitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview Friday.
Forman spoke from Berlin, where he was attending a high-level meeting on anti-Semitism with other American diplomats and leaders, which was organized by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“We are concerned when civil society or political leaders call on the Jewish community to denounce Israel,” Forman said, referring to Prime Minister Tayyp Erdogan, who despite discussing the importance of combating anti-Semitism with US President Barack Obama in September, made similar statements during Israel’s summer war with Hamas in Gaza.
A prominent group of Turkish Jews even circulated a letter protesting the way they and the entire Jewish community had been blamed and targeted in response to Israel's Operation Protective Edge.
"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.
Additionally, throughout the war, Erdogan was sharply critical of Israel, telling his parliament that Israel was carrying out "state terrorism" and comparing Israel's mentality to that of Hitler.
Forman also expressed concern about "someone posting a sign reading ‘to be demolished’ on Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue,” referring to an incident that occurred last week.
Forman, who visited Istanbul recently, said this particular incident caused much concern, in light of previous deadly terror attacks on the synagogue in 2003 and 1986.
Indeed, in the past several years, anti-Semitism has risen steadily in Turkey, which is under the rule of Erdogan's Islamist AKP party, 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.
Erdogan, whose Islamic party has ruled Turkey for the past decade, has scaled back considerably what used to be a close strategic partnership between his country and Israel, who he has accused of “murdering babies.”
Forman also discussed concerns for the safety of Jews throughout Western Europe, which has seen its own rise in anti-Semitism in recent years.
“Listening to delegates from France telling us that Jewish parents are pulling their children out of public school to keep them safe and others even pulling them out of Jewish schools and sending them to Catholic schools so they won’t be targeted by terrorists made a powerful impression,” he said.
“This reflects an understanding in American civil society that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, but a problem of society as a whole. And while some European governments have demonstrated determination in the fight against anti-Semitism, civil society in many European countries is, sadly, not there yet.”