Anti-Semitism renewed in Turkey

world | Feb 03, 2009 | By Geries Othman

Relations between Turkey and Israel are tense, coming close to a crisis point after Turkish Prime Minister got up a left a round-table discussion in Davos to protest Israeli President Shimon Peres’ defence of his country’s offensive in Gaza. Especially worrisome are signals of rising anti-Semitism in the Turkish population and of cooling economic relations between the two countries.

Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper published a front page interview with the president of the Turkish Jewish Community Silvyo Ovadya titled: “We do not want tolerance, but equality.” In it Ovadya tried to explain what is happening in his country after the Davos incident.

“I am Turkish,” said Ovadya, “and I do not want tolerance. The constitution and democracy are enough for me. Of course, anyone is free to criticise Israel’s policies, but every attack against Israel can stir hatred against Jews. I am proud to say that I am Turkish everywhere in the world. This is my citizenship; here I am neither a guest, nor a foreigner. Why should I need other people’s tolerance towards me?”

Born in Istanbul in 1955 and a graduate in electronic engineering, Ovadya did his military service in the Turkish army in Cyprus. He is a fan of the Fenerbache soccer team. He also rails against the rising anti-Semitism in Turkey. He is not alone.

On 23 January of this year, five of the main US Jewish organisations wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tayyp Erdogan asking him to “urgently address current wave of anti-Semitism”.

“Dear Prime Minister Erdogan,” began the letter, “We write to express our profound concern over the current wave of anti-Semitic manifestations in Turkey. Many recent incidents are gravely distressing to us. Protestors besieging the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul have expressed their hatred of Jews. Billboards around Istanbul are full of anti-Jewish propaganda posters. . . . We have been longstanding friends of the Republic of Turkey and have always valued our relationship with your Government. In the spirit of this historic relationship, we express our deep concern and, recalling your earlier denunciation of anti-Semitism as a ‘crime against humanity,’ call on you to urgently address these disturbing developments.”

Two weeks after the incident Jews have not been experienced any physical attack Ovadya said, partly because Istanbul police has stepped security around synagogues, but the psychological pressure is very strong. Cases of intolerance are daily occurrences.

“A Jewish child, who is good at school, was recently ridiculed and verbally abused during school break by fellow students; a policeman protecting a synagogue refused a lunch meal that was offered to him because it was ‘Jewish food;’ the door of a Jewish-owned shop near Istanbul University was covered with a poster that said, “Do not buy from here, since this shop is owned by a Jew,” a bitter Ovadya said.

For some time now various Turkish organisations have been promoting a boycott campaign targeting Israeli products. This could hurt Israel, whose exports to Turkey are worth more than US$ 3 billion a year.

Indeed whilst the crisis between Israel and Turkey has not touched military cooperation between the two countries, it is having great repercussions on economic relations.

Israel too is hitting back at Turkey’s tourism-based economy. The atmosphere of tensions has persuaded many Israelis to cancel their planned vacations to Turkey. Travel agencies have seen flight bookings on Turkish Airlines to Turkey’s main resort areas drop by as much as 70 per cent, a serious blow for Turkey’s tourist sector. Last year alone half a million Israelis visited Istanbul and other Turkish cities thanks to great tour deals that gave even low-income families a chance to visit Turkish beach resorts or archaeological sites on the Mediterranean coast, in places like Bodrum and Antalya.

Despite everything Israel’s ambassador to Turkey remains upbeat. “I am confident and trustful that we are going to be able—within a period of time—to come back to business as usual in our relations,” Ambassador Gaby Levy said. “It is in the interest of both countries to start trying to calm down and move forward.”

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