Turkish Jews worried after politician links diaspora to protests

Tue Jul 2, 2013 11:23am EDT
 
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The World Jewish Congress said it was shocked by what it said were "despicable" and "totally baseless slurs".

"Mr. Atalay should have the decency to apologize. His remarks are 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," it said in a written statement.

The Turkish Jewish Community, which represents most of Turkey's estimated 23,000 Jewish faithful, said Atalay's remarks could lead to reprisals against its members in a mostly Muslim country of 76 million.

"We are trying to obtain information about the meaning, the scope and details of Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay's statement about the 'Jewish Diaspora being behind Gezi protests,'" the Turkish Jewish Community and chief rabbinate said in a joint statement on the community's website.

"(Because) Turkish Jewish citizens, as well as other Jewish people living all around the globe, may be affected and pointed (out) as a target of such a generalization, we wish to express our concerns and share our apprehension and worry of the consequences that such perceptions can cause."

Turkey's Jews, most of whom trace their roots to the 15th century when their ancestors found refuge in the Ottoman Empire from the Spanish Inquisition, have in recent years faced pressure as relations between Israel and Turkey soured.

Ties between the erstwhile military allies hit a low in May 2010 when Israeli commandoes killed nine Turkish activists in storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a Turkish-led convoy seeking to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this year, Erdogan called Zionism "a crime against humanity", prompting objections from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. President Barack Obama subsequently orchestrated an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara raid.

While at least one other member of Erdogan's ruling party has suggested Jewish involvement in the Gezi protest, the remarks by Atalay appeared to be the first such public accusation by a senior member of the ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.

In a message on Twitter, the AK Party mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara, Melih Gokcek, said on June 16 the Gezi protests were a "a game of the Jewish lobby" and cited a Turkish newspaper report that a Washingon-based think tank linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group had predicted the protests earlier in the year.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, Jonathon Burch and Gulsen Solaker; editing by Ralph Boulton)

 
A poster with the pictures of Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) is attached to a baby stroller during a pro-Islamist demonstration in Istanbul July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer