Turkish Jews fearful of anti-Semitism after Gaza

Mon Jan 26, 2009 9:02am EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's centuries-old Jewish community says it is alarmed by anti-Semitism that emerged during protests at Israel's Gaza assault, and is questioning how this reflects its status in the predominantly Muslim republic.

Although Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned anti-Semitism, Jews in Turkey and beyond believe the language he employed during the conflict gave some a license to translate their outrage at Israel's action into racial hatred.

Heightened anti-Jewish sentiment comes at a time of rising nationalism in Turkey, blamed for the murders of several Christians in the last few years, as hardliners fight against those struggling for a more plural, multi-ethnic society.

Some 24,000 Jews live in Turkey, making them one of the world's largest Jewish communities in a Muslim country, and their relations with the state, like those of other minorities, are a litmus test for Turkey's readiness to join the European Union.

"I feel worried, sad and scared for myself and for my country's future, which is leaning toward racism," Turkish-Jewish academic Leyla Navaro wrote in Radikal newspaper.

While Turkey is officially presented as a mosaic of cultures and peoples, Navaro said this was an empty tourist slogan in a country where a rigid definition of Turkishness has been imposed from above since the state's inception in 1923.

Turkey's Jewish community, which issued a typically impartial statement as the Gaza conflict began, said it has never seen anything like the anti-Semitism which emerged as public fury over the plight of the Palestinians soared.

Intensifying their fear is the fact Jews have been attacked in Turkey before. In November 2003 truck bombs exploded outside two Istanbul synagogues killing 24 people, mainly Muslims. A Turkish cell with links to al Qaeda claimed responsibility.   Continued...

<p>Protesters stand behind a banner during a rally against Israel's attacks on Gaza, in Ankara in this January 18, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files</p>