Jewish singer to represent Turkey in song contest

Posted on JTA Friday, January 20, 2012 Turkey’s Jews are pleased that, for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment in being chosen to compete with singers from other European countries – at least not the Jewish part. “We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, antisemitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA. Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew. “My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the Aksam news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey. I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.” Prior to his appearance on Aksam, radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons. The anchor framed her question this way: “People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.” The intimation that the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., which makes the Eurovision selection, would kowtow to pro-Israel groups seems a little bizarre with Turkey’s moderate Islamist government doing its best to distance itself from Israel. One of the crises that fuelled the current tensions between the two countries, in fact, was the broadcast in 2010 on state-run TV of a drama series that portrayed Israelis as harvesting organs from Iraqis. It is true that Bonomo’s selection for the annual contest, which is being held this year in Azerbaijan in May, has sparked a glint of hope in Turkey’s 20,000 Jews, who have watched anxiously as their country’s historically strong relations with Israel have deteriorated. “It is the first time in history that a talented young Turkish Jewish singer will represent Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest,” Derya Agis, a scholar of Turkish Jewish culture and history at Brandeis University, wrote on her Facebook page. “Turkey will show the importance of diversity in Europe where antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia have been problems since centuries.” Or, put a little less academically by Denise Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community: “A Jewish boy is going to represent Turkey!” she told JTA. “We’re all very proud.” Saporta downplayed the attacks on Bonomo, saying they are typical of political factions that deride minorities in general and are not representative of Turks. “This always happens with ‘firsts,’” she said. “If he were anything other than a Sunni Muslim male – a woman, even –these media would attack.” Going by his Facebook fan page, Bonomo has a solid following among Turks of all stripes. The video of the Aksam interview drew hundreds of comments supporting him. One fan, Osman Kural, denounced the “radical, right wing agitprop,” and said it “in no way represents all of the country.” Bonomo, 24, oozes hip, with his retro caps and his blazer over T-shirt look. His Twitter biography describes him as “musician/illustrator/writer/drunk/bast’E’rd. (– Chill dude).” (His facility with English is another factor riling Turkish ultranationalists.) EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style.” The Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles are listed by the site as his influences. His vocals incorporate the rising and falling quartertones typical of his country’s music, and are set against throbbing drums and guitar and oud riffs.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

JTA Friday, January 20, 2012 Turkey’s Jews are pleased that, for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment in being chosen to compete with singers from other European countries – at least not the Jewish part. […]

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Turkish Hitler ad pulled after Jewish protests

Posted on Jewish Telegraphic Agency March 29, 2012 A Turkish advertisement that uses Hitler to sell men’s shampoo has been pulled following protests by the Jewish community in Turkey. The advertisers said that the commercial, which features a clip of Hitler delivering an impassioned speech with a voiceover urging men to use Biomen shampoo, would not be used anymore. The ad ran on a Turkish sports channel. “Decisive action by the leaders of the Turkish Jewish community mobilized national and international public opinion against the shockingly offensive use of Hitler imagery for commercial purposes,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “And in short order, the company responsible for this outrage reversed course.” Turkish Jewish community leaders credited leading Turkish newspapers, including Milliyet and Hurriyet, with rallying public criticism of the commercial, and expressed gratitude for supportive commentary in news media and by Jewish organizations around the world, according to AJC. In the ad, the dubbed-over Hitler says, “If you are not wearing women’s dress, you shouldn’t be using women’s shampoo, either.”%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Jewish Telegraphic Agency March 29, 2012 A Turkish advertisement that uses Hitler to sell men’s shampoo has been pulled following protests by the Jewish community in Turkey. The advertisers said that the commercial, which features a clip of Hitler delivering an impassioned speech with a voiceover urging men to use Biomen shampoo, would not be […]

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Turkey Threatens to Attack Israel; Media Stays Mum

Posted on Commentary Magazine February 4th, 2013 By Evelyn Gordon This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey would not stay unresponsive to an Israeli attack against any Muslim country.” He also lambasted Syrian President Bashar Assad for failing to launch retaliatory strikes against Israel himself and charged that Assad must have “made a secret deal with Israel.” Granted, Turkey isn’t really going to attack Israel, nor is Assad likely to do so in response to Davutoglu’s taunts–which is why most Western media outlets, even had they noticed the story, would have dismissed it as non-newsworthy. But they’d be wrong. The failure to report this constant drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement–not just in Turkey, but also in other countries–may be the biggest single reason why so many Americans, including senior policy-makers, consistently misread the Middle East. Consider, for instance, what Davutoglu actually told his countrymen via the press briefing quoted in Hurriyet. First, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that attacks other Muslim countries for no good reason: He didn’t bother mentioning that the reported target was a convoy ferrying sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization openly dedicated to Israel’s eradication. Second, he told them Israel is the kind of criminal state that makes secret deals with Assad, a leader who has slaughtered over 60,000 of his own citizens. Nor is this unusual: Officials from the ruling AKP party produce a constant stream of anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) incitement. Indeed, as we know from WikiLeaks, even former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey concluded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “simply hates Israel.” Ignorance of this incitement has real consequences for U.S. policy. For instance, the Obama administration wasted copious amounts of time, energy and diplomatic capital in trying to effect a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation after Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in May 2010. In reality, Erdogan never wanted a reconciliation; for him, the flotilla was a golden opportunity to downgrade ties with a country he loathed. Hence he rejected every Israel offer of apology and compensation; he also rejected the conclusions of the UN inquiry Washington orchestrated in an attempt to satisfy him. To anyone aware of the nonstop anti-Israel incitement Erdogan and his colleagues had been spouting for years, this outcome would have been predictable. But because American officials weren’t, they wasted valuable diplomatic resources that could have been better spent elsewhere. Far more important, however, is that many U.S. policymakers still consider Turkey a reliable ally with common interests–and are then dismayed when it doesn’t act accordingly. For instance, Washington recently asked Turkey to intervene on its behalf should Syria use chemical weapons; Turkey agreed to accept the U.S.-donated equipment but refused to actually promise to take action. Yet in fact, America has very little in common with a country that threatens to attack Cyprus (as well as Israel), extols a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, propagates the “Jews control the media” stereotype, and so forth. And most Americans would probably recognize this, if they knew the facts. But they don’t, and never will–because the media has decided that such details aren’t newsworthy.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Commentary Magazine February 4th, 2013 By Evelyn Gordon This weekend, a NATO member threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies–and nobody in Washington even appears to have noticed. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lambasted Israel’s reported airstrike on an arms convoy inside Syria and warned that “Turkey […]

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Zero Jews, one synagogue. Turkey to restore old shul

Posted on ISRAEL HAYOM By Araleh Weisberg July 18, 2012 Erdogan's administration approves reconstruction of historical synagogue, despite tensions with Jewish state • The last Jews left the city of Gaziantep in 1979 • Some will return to attend dedication ceremony in three months. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may never miss an opportunity to castigate Israel, but the man apparently has a softer side for his country's historical Jewish community. Ankara recently approved the reconstruction and rebuilding of the oldest synagogue in the city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border. Gaziantep had a thriving Jewish community for many centuries, but the last Jewish residents left the city in 1979. Some of them moved to Istanbul while others immigrated to Israel. The synagogue fell into a state of dilapidation. Interestingly, Turkey has chosen to restore the synagogue to its former glory at a time of heightened diplomatic tension with Israel. According to Turkish law, new synagogues may be opened only with special permission from the regime. The local municipality received such permission and the synagogue is set to be dedicated in about three months' time. Dozens of Jews will return to the city to honor the occasion. Turkish officials have already hired a Jewish ritual slaughterer and kosher supervisor for the occasion. Erdogan himself is reportedly considering attending the event. As part of the new synagogue's dedication, Torah scrolls that were transferred to Istanbul in the late 1970s will be returned to the synagogue's ark. Adel Arkadas Cohen, 68, who grew up in Gaziantep and made aliyah to Israel 33 years ago, is planning to attend the ceremony. "It was hard for us to see the building abandoned and destroyed, and we're very excited," she told Israel Hayom on Tuesday. "I draw a distinction between relationships between politicians and those between people. When I visit the country where I was born, I do not encounter any signs of hatred."%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

ISRAEL HAYOM By Araleh Weisberg July 18, 2012 Erdogan’s administration approves reconstruction of historical synagogue, despite tensions with Jewish state • The last Jews left the city of Gaziantep in 1979 • Some will return to attend dedication ceremony in three months. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may never miss an opportunity to castigate […]

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American Anthropologist Portrays Jews in Turkey

Posted on THE CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS Sheldon Kirshner, Staff Reporter Thursday, June 28, 2012 Turkey’s venerable Jewish community, one of the few still left in the Muslim world today, comes under rigorous scrutiny in Marcy Brink-Danan’s Jewish Life in 21st-Century Turkey: The Other Side of Tolerance, published by Indiana University Press. The author, a Brown University anthropologist, provides readers with a clear, comprehensive survey of a model minority. Jews have lived in Turkey for more than 2,000 years, but the vast majority of its Jewish citizens are the descendants of 15th-century persecuted Spanish Jews who were offered asylum in the Ottoman Empire by a visionary sultan. Jews in Turkey have enjoyed full citizenship since the formation of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923, “yet their patriotism and indigenousness are regularly questioned by Muslim Turks,” she observes. She adds, “Jews in their everyday interactions with Muslim Turks are regularly assumed to be foreigners who are either recently arrived or on their way to somewhere else.” Despite their Turkish citizenship and their full integration into Turkish society, they are regarded as yabanci (strangers or foreigners), she claims. However viewed by Muslims, Turkish Jews were never forced to live in ghettos and were never persecuted in a wholesale manner, she points out. During the Ottoman era, they were a tolerated minority, like Christians, and since the advent of the republic, they have been full citizens. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the republic’s generally revered founder, had a high regard for Jews, praising them for their loyalty and assuring them that they would live in “comfort and happiness” in Turkey. According to Brink-Danan, Turkish Jews have served the state in at least one important respect: “The Jews, in the role of the ‘good minority,’ serve as a powerful foil to the Armenian genocide discourse, enabling Turkey to display a history of cosmopolitanism and refute the bad press it so often garners over the genocide question.” Judging by a survey she cites, most Turkish Jews consider themselves quite religious. Yet many of the Jews she encountered regard themselves as devoutly secular, in line with the tenets of the republic. Given their Spanish ancestry, Turkish Jews are predominantly Sephardi, with surnames such as Amado and Ventura. And, of course, many elderly Turkish Jews speak Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, a dying language that incorporates elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkish, French, Italian and Greek. Nonetheless, she notes, some Jews have Turkified their names, while others have replaced old names with purely Turkish names. More than 90 per cent of Turkey’s 18,000 Jews live in urban areas, primarily in Istanbul, but also in Ankara, Bursa and Adana. Before the emergence of Israel, Turkey was home to a much larger Jewish community. In her estimation, one-third of its members have emigrated since the advent of Israeli statehood. In references to the “strong infrastructure” that underpins the community in Istanbul, she mentions its network of synagogues, schools and so on. But in almost the same breath, she suggests that this is a community in decline, given its low birthrate, aging population and mixed marriages. “If prior to the 1960s intermarriage was quite rare, by 1992 marriages between Jews and non-Jews in Turkey was recorded at 42 per cent, with the rate of intermarriage nearly doubling between 1990 and 2001,” she writes. In her view, the Jewish community lives with contradictions. As she puts it, “Jews in Turkey publicly celebrate a long history of coexistence and tolerance, yet live with ongoing security concerns bred by antisemitism and periodic attacks against… their institutions.” This, of course, is a reference to the three assaults that have been mounted against Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul by Islamic fanatics since 1986. Brink-Danan suggests that Jews in Turkey keep a low profile, with the community being extremely reluctant to publicize its activities. “The consensus is that the slightest publicity might endanger the status quo.” She goes on to say: “Throughout my fieldwork research, my Turkish Jewish friends advised me to follow their example and erase my own Jewishness from the public sphere, citing a list of ‘don’ts’ that sometimes seemed endless: don’t nail your mezuzah to the outside of the doorframe; don’t wear a Jewish star necklace, and, just in case, don’t tell your landlord you are Jewish. “I constantly confronted the seemingly ironic claim Turkish Jews make of feeling at home in a country where Jewish difference is maintained in the private domain, while public space is seen as a universal sphere in which difference must be erased. “Becoming Turkish, along with the fear of not being perceived as Turkish enough, has engendered a profusion of effacing social practices among Jews in Istanbul. Layered upon these assimilationist conditions, local antisemitism and the complicated relationship Turkish Jews have with Israel… generate an additional set of incentives to disappear.” The lack of signage at all major Jewish community buildings in Istanbul is also a function of this mindset, she says. Public support for Israel among Turkish Jews falls into the category of “the forbidden.” As she writes, “While opinions and emotions about Israel run deep among Jews in Turkey, I rarely observed a Turkish Jew advocating for Israel, or for that matter heavily criticizing Israel.” Brink-Danan, in Jewish Life in 21st-Century Turkey, ventures beyond the bland and the predictable and produces a thought-provoking book about an intriguing Jewish community in a fascinating Muslim country.%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

THE CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS Sheldon Kirshner, Staff Reporter Thursday, June 28, 2012 Turkey’s venerable Jewish community, one of the few still left in the Muslim world today, comes under rigorous scrutiny in Marcy Brink-Danan’s Jewish Life in 21st-Century Turkey: The Other Side of Tolerance, published by Indiana University Press. The author, a Brown University anthropologist, […]

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بعد أن كان كنيسهم ممتلئ في الأفراح و الأتراح، ١٧ هو عدد اليهود المتبقيين في أنطاكية

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مترجم | جيمنا

١٧ يهودي … عدد اليهود المتبقيين في أنطاكية التركية من بين جالية يهودية عمرها ٢٣٠٠ سنة

 

 منذ أربعين سنة مضت كان هناك بضعة مئات من اليهود متمركزين في أنطاكيا التركية و ما حولها أصغر المتبقيين منهم اليوم يبلغ عمره ٦٠ عام .

مازال سول كانيودياوغلو يتذكر منظر كنيسه و هو يعج بالمصلين , يتذكر كيف كان حتى المسيحيين و المسلمين من أبناء المنطقة يترددون على هذا الكنيس للمشاركة في احتفالات الزواج و الولادة .

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يقول سول , "جل ما يخيفني هو أنه بعد ١٥ أو ٢٠ سنة كيف سيتسائل أهالي أنطالكيا ، هل عرفتم أنه كان هناك يهود أتراك عاشوا هنا "

أنطاكيا التي تبعد حوالي ال٢٠ ميلا ً من الحدود السورية و التي تعرف بجمال طبيعتها و لذة فاكهتها ، تأثر بالحرب الدائرة في سوريا حيث ازداد عدد سكانها بشكل كبير نتيجة نزوح حوال ال٣٠ ألف سوري اليها ، اضافة الى تحولها لنقطة عبور للجهاديين الساعين للقتال في سوريا .

لم تكن الحرب السورية رغم كل تأثيرها عى تركيا السبب في نزوح ما تبقى من اليهود منها بل تعود الحكاية للعام ١٩٧٠ عندما ضربت موجة من العنف السياسي تركيا ، خالقة الجو المناسب لمحاربة الأقليات كاليهود و طردهم من المنطقة.

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هرب الالاف من يهود تركيا حينها الى العاصمة الاقتصادية و الثقافية لتركيا "استنبول"  أو لدول أخرى هرباً من العنف المتنامي ضد الأقليات و بحثاً عن حياة أفضل ، و منذ ذلك الحين لم يتجمع يهود أنطاكيا فيها مرة أخرى أبداً .

اليوم لم يتبقى في تركيا سوى ١٧ يهودي ، يبلغ عمر أصغرهم ٦٠ عام .

قابلت كونديواغلو  ، الرجل ذو ال٧٥ عاماً  عند مدخل كنيس المدينة الوحيدة .

باب الكنيس يطل على حديقة خلفية صغيرة مرصوفة بجحارة سوداء و بضعة أشجار متفرقة. بينما كنا نتحدث أنا و سول ، أطل جار الكنيس المسلم من الباب و دعانا لشرب شاي تركي

.أخبرني سول : " كل سكان المنطقة مضيافين و يدعمونا "

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مترجم | جيمنا ١٧ يهودي … عدد اليهود المتبقيين في أنطاكية التركية من بين جالية يهودية عمرها ٢٣٠٠ سنة    منذ أربعين سنة مضت كان هناك بضعة مئات من اليهود متمركزين في أنطاكيا التركية و ما حولها أصغر المتبقيين منهم اليوم يبلغ عمره ٦٠ عام . مازال سول كانيودياوغلو يتذكر منظر كنيسه و هو يعج بالمصلين […]

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Turkish PM: Jews Are Under My Protection

Posted on Arutz Sheva 6/24/12 By: Rachel Hirshfeld Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to reassure the country’s Jewish community, saying that he will ensure its safety, Anatolia news agency reported. Two American-Jewish men reportedly approached the Turkish PM while he was attending the Rio 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to ask him "to protect" Jewish people living in Turkey. "Under my leadership, the Jewish community in Turkey is safe," Erdogan said. "They are under my protection. We see [Jewish people] as brothers." "We have no problem with the Israeli people," Erdogan said in response to a question. "Our problem is the aggressive behavior of the Israeli government. We have to find solutions to problems in the Middle East. The Israelis have to treat the Palestinians better." The Algemeiner identified the men as brothers Avraham and Yirmi Berkowitz, rabbis of Chabad Lubavitch. “It was a chance meeting,” they said, adding, “we mentioned the ancient and prestigious history of Jews in Turkey, which the Prime Minister acknowledged.” “Erdogan also mentioned Chief Rabbi Rabbi Yitzchak Haleva by name, saying that he ‘is like a brother to me,’” they said. The rabbis told the paper that they responded by saying, “that the people of Israel don’t want to kill anyone, we love life and hate death, but the State of Israel needs to be able to defend itself and needs to have secure borders.” Read More...%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Arutz Sheva 6/24/12 By: Rachel Hirshfeld Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to reassure the country’s Jewish community, saying that he will ensure its safety, Anatolia news agency reported. Two American-Jewish men reportedly approached the Turkish PM while he was attending the Rio 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to ask him […]

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Turkey’s model minority

Posted on The Canadian Jewish News 6/5/12 By: Sheldon Kirshner A valued and protected model minority during the Ottoman Empire and full citizens since the formation of a secular republic in 1923, the Jews of Turkey have enjoyed equality and respect, but have had to cope with periodic outbursts of xenophobia and racism. Turkey, a pro-western state of 75 million inhabitants with the second-largest Jewish community in the Muslim world after that of Iran, treasures its centuries-long bond with Jews. As Turkish diplomat Ertan Tezgor said, “We have quite tight relations with the Jewish people.” Judging by the historic record, Jews have fared far better in Turkey than Armenians or Greeks, whose grievances can fill a book. The Jewish presence in Turkey can be traced back to antiquity, to the Roman and Byzantine empires, when Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews settled in Anatolia, Turkey’s heartland, and were eventually absorbed by Sephardi Jews, who reached Ottoman lands from Spain under duress in the 15th century. Invited to the Ottoman Empire by the sultan, Mehmet II, Jews repaid the favour by being exceedingly loyal and productive citizens. Like all minorities, they lived within the framework of the millet system, which organized non-Muslim communities on the basis of religion. With the breakup of the remaining segments of the Ottoman Empire, a cosmopolitan domain that reached deep into the Middle East and the Balkans, the number of Jews declined precipitously, from several hundred thousand in the 19th century to 80,000 by the conclusion of Turkey’s war of national independence, which resulted in a Muslim/Christian population exchange. In modern Turkey, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered father of the nation, minorities, especially Greek and Armenian Christians, were subjected to assimilationist policies and discrimination until the 1950s, according to Istanbul historian Rifat Bali. In Eastern Thrace, Turkey’s gateway to Europe, several thousand Jews in towns such as Edirne and Canakkale were forcibly expelled in 1934 in a campaign of physical violence, psychological intimidation and economic boycotts. The expulsions finally stopped when the central government intervened and allowed Jews to return to their homes. “It’s not clear who was behind all this,” said Bali. But right-wing nationalists sympathetic to Nazi racial doctrines may have been among the perpetrators. In 1942, the Turkish government imposed a crippling wealth tax (Varlik vergisi) on well-off citizens. Historians generally regard the punitive tax, most keenly felt by Jews and Christians, as an attempt by the government to stop war profiteering and to transfer wealth to the Sunni majority. Bali describes the tax, revoked in 1944, as a discriminatory and arbitrary measure that blatantly violated the 1924 constitution. In his view, the tax sent an unmistakable signal to minorities that they had no future in Turkey. In 1955, following reports that Ataturk’s ancestral home in Salonika had been destroyed, anti-Greek riots erupted in the centre of Istanbul, resulting in the destruction of numerous shops and homes. Jews and Armenians were caught in the backwash of this pogrom. Five decades on, Turkey has matured and now has “a positive attitude to minorities,” said Bali. But due to the events of 1934, 1942 and 1955, the pull of Israel after 1948 and an outbreak of terrorism in the 1970s, Turkey’s Jewish community has declined numerically. About 18,000 Jews, all but 400 of whom are Sephardi Jews, reside in Turkey today. Emigration is still a factor, with upwards of 150 Jews making aliyah every year. By one estimate, there are 100,000 Jews of Turkish origin in Israel. By all accounts, the 1986 and 2003 bombings of Neve Shalom, the biggest synagogue in Istanbul, did not cause a significant exodus of Jews. The attacks, which were respectively perpetrated by Arab and Turkish terrorists, claimed the lives of more than 40 Jews and Muslims. Turkish Jews are largely concentrated in Istanbul, with much smaller centres in Izmir, Bursa and Ankara. They possess an impressive range of institutions, synagogues and schools, but these facilities are increasingly difficult to maintain. Demographic realities, notably an intermarriage rate ranging in the vicinity of 25 per cent and an aging population in which deaths outnumber births, are key problems in the community, said Izak Kolman, an advisor to Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva. He and others believe that Jewish population stability will be assured by Turkey’s vibrant economy and by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to bring in a new constitution enshrining human rights. By local standards, Turkish Jews are fairly prosperous, being active in business (particularly in the textile trade) and the professions. Yet 200 families in Istanbul require food aid per month. Traditionally, the civil service and the armed forces have been informally off-limits to Jews and Christians. However, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently declared that Jews should be members of the diplomatic corps. Whether the new policy is merely tokenism remains to be seen. Jewish leaders here claim that antisemitism does not pose a problem in daily life. But since most Muslim Turks have never met a Jew, “you have fear and negative feelings,” noted Sami Herman, the community’s president. Antisemitic material is published in the ultra-nationalist and Islamic press, Bali observed. “But the sentiments they express reflect opinion in the street, and are not held by Turkish elites.” Although Jews are well integrated into Turkish society, ethnocentric Turks claim that only Muslims are real Turks, and that Jews are foreigners (yabancis). The Mavi Marmara incident of May 2010, during which Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship trying to break Israel’s naval siege of the Gaza Strip, may have contributed to the erroneous belief that Jews are faux Turks. “Jews feared that their loyalty to Turkey would be questioned,” said Bali. “But no one questioned their loyalty.” By way of response, the Jewish community immediately issued an official statement expressing sadness and sorrow over the loss of life. Much to its relief, Erdogan issued a warning that anti-Israel feelings should not be allowed to spill over into antisemitism. “We felt a little stressed, but there has not been a long-term impact on our community,” said Herman, observing that the Mavi Marmara affair only affected Turkey’s bilateral relations with Israel. Although Turkish Jews tend to be pro-Israel, citing historical and cultural affinities with Israel, they tread carefully in public discussions about Zionism. “We’re not Zionists,” declared Herman. “Not at all. But for sure Israel is very important for Jews.” Herman’s colleague, Adil Anjel, put it more starkly: “In Turkey, Zionism is a bad word, like saying you’re a racist.” He added, “We are Turkish Jews who feel sympathetic toward Israel.” Read More...%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

The Canadian Jewish News 6/5/12 By: Sheldon Kirshner A valued and protected model minority during the Ottoman Empire and full citizens since the formation of a secular republic in 1923, the Jews of Turkey have enjoyed equality and respect, but have had to cope with periodic outbursts of xenophobia and racism. Turkey, a pro-western state […]

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Turkey’s Jewish Community: Future Unknown

Posted on Arutz Sheva 3/16/12 By: Manfred Gerstenfeld The Jewish community in Turkey is one of the few surviving ones in a Muslim country. Its numbers have however, dwindled greatly. In 1927, the Turkish Republic conducted its first general census which found that there were 81,872 Jews. After Israel’s independence in 1948, about half of Turkey’s Jews left for Israel. In following years, emigration continued parallel to political and economic turbulences. The present number of Jews is somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000.” “In recent years, the Jewish community has become the target of much hostility and verbal abuse by the country’s Islamic and ultra-nationalist sectors. Zionism and Israel are publicly demonized and this sentiment often crosses the line into anti-Semitism. It is unthinkable that any Turkish Jew would make pro-Israel statements openly to correct all the misinformation and disinformation concerning Israel and Zionism.” Rifat N. Bali is an independent scholar. He is a Research Fellow of the Alberto Benveniste Center for Sephardic Studies and Culture in Paris. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the history of Turkish Jewry. “On 31 May 2010, the Israeli Defense Forces stopped the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship of the flotilla of the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH). In the ensuing fight, eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed. “This became a critical moment for the Jewish community. The Turkish public perceived the incident as the murder of Muslim Turks by the Jewish army. A new wave of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories appeared in the Turkish media and were supported by public figures. One conspiracy theory was that Israel was behind the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) attack on a Turkish military base which occurred a few hours after the IDF intervention on the Mavi Marmara. “It came as no surprise that the Turkish media would ask Jewish leaders to declare which side they were on. The Chief Rabbinate responded a few hours after the incident saying, ‘We are distressed to learn of the military intervention carried out against the ship Mavi Marmara, which was heading toward Gaza. The fact that, according to the first reports we have received, there have been dead and wounded in the intervention, has increased our sorrow all the more. We fully share our country’s reaction generated by the stopping of the aforementioned [relief] effort in this manner and our sorrow is the same as that of the general public.’ “Besides this declaration, the Jewish community tried to keep as low a profile as possible. This void was filled by two Turkish Jewish public figures. Mario Levi is a well-known novelist. He told the Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’ that, ‘As Jews in Istanbul, we are in solidarity with the people in Gaza.’ He added that he did not think there was anti-Semitism in Turkey. “Roni Margulies is a Jewish Trotskyite poet and a columnist at the liberal-leftist daily Taraf. He stated that he approved of the Gaza flotilla, disapproved of Israel’s raid and wished he could have been there. He remarked that ‘For a Jew, Israel is the most dangerous place to live in the world and Israel is a danger to world Jewry.’ Both Levi and Margulies’ statements were well received by the Turkish media. The Mavi Marmara incident has thus shown again, that the Turkish public and media see an anti-Zionist as a good Jew and a pro-Zionist as a bad Jew. “In such an environment, the leadership of the Turkish Jewish community cannot reach out to Turkish society. In order to preserve the identity of the Turkish Jewish youth, Zionism and an attachment to Israel are two main themes taught to them. The Turkish public and media see an anti-Zionist as a good Jew and a pro-Zionist as a bad Jew. Jewish parents however, counsel their children not to display Star of David necklaces in public and to ignore as much as possible the hateful criticism of Israel in the Turkish public sphere. “The Turkish Jewish community has one element of added value for the government. It is expected to help convince American Jewish organizations to use their influence to block the official recognition as genocide by the U.S. Congress of the 1915 murderous deportation by the Ottoman Turks of the Armenians. “In the past decades, there has been increased violence toward the Jewish community. There was an assassination attempt against a Jak V. Kamhi in 1993, the President of the Quincentennial Foundation and a prominent businessman. The Foundation was established in 1989 to celebrate the quincentennial anniversary of the arrival of Sephardi Jews to Ottoman lands. In 1995, there was another attempt against the president of Ankara’s small Jewish community, Professor Yuda Yürüm. An Istanbul dentist, Yasef Yahya was murdered in 2003. Later that year, there were two suicide bomb attacks by radical Islamists against two Istanbul synagogues, Neve Shalom and Beth Israel.” Bali concludes: “The long-term viability of the Turkish Jewish community is doubtful. Its influence in society is negligible. It plays no role in the country’s cultural, political or intellectual life. There is no one in Turkish civil society to respond to the widespread, hostile rhetoric. The Jewish community is therefore totally dependent on the government to protect its members.” Read More... %A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

Arutz Sheva 3/16/12 By: Manfred Gerstenfeld The Jewish community in Turkey is one of the few surviving ones in a Muslim country. Its numbers have however, dwindled greatly. In 1927, the Turkish Republic conducted its first general census which found that there were 81,872 Jews. After Israel’s independence in 1948, about half of Turkey’s Jews […]

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Turkish Jews Voice Wary Confidence About Future

Posted on The Jewish Daily Forward 9/20/11 By: Ben Hartman ISTANBUL — The diplomatic clash between Israel and Turkey may be escalating, but many within Turkey’s 23,000-strong Jewish population insist that it is nothing more than politics for them, with no practical effect on their lives or security. “In daily life, we don’t fear anything from the Turks,” said Nisya Isman Allovi, manager of the Jewish Museum in Istanbul. But, acknowledging the thick protection her institution and many others in the Jewish community receive, she also said, “Security is, it’s done just to be cautious about everything.” The targeting of the community over the years by terrorists — albeit by non-Turks — explains the blast-proof doors and X-ray machines found at Turkish synagogues, where outsiders can attend services only after making advanced reservations with the rabbinate. It may also explain the guarded manner in which members of the community responded to questions from the press. At services held on September 16 at Sicli synagogue, the city’s busiest, one man complained of Turkish anti-Semitism, only to respond that everything was fine in Turkey once he was informed that he was speaking to a journalist. The same scene played out repeatedly: Someone would express apprehension about Turkish attitudes toward Jews, or express no fear whatsoever, while demanding that his or her name not be printed. One of those Jews, “Haim,” a 76-year-old retiree, said he doesn’t believe that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an anti-Semite or that he will allow any harm to befall Turkey’s Jews. “His problem is only with the Israeli government and not the people,” Haim said. “Erdogan won’t let the Jews be hurt, because we’re his citizens, we pay taxes. He’s said this. He just wants to attract Arab support, Arab business and tourism. I don’t believe he hates Jews. It’s politics only.” Holding a key chain that held a locket with a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey as a modern secular state, and a quarter-sized bronze menorah, Haim said that there was nothing for Jews to fear in regard to anti-Semitism in Turkey, but then he asked that his real name not be used. Haim related that his brother was killed in a 1986 terror attack on Congregation Neve Shalom. Allovi, one of the few Jews willing to speak on the record, said: “The problems between Israel and Turkey are not between the people, they are between the countries. It’s like, if you go to Greece you can drink ouzo and talk to people and be fine, just… don’t talk about politics.” When asked if young Turkish Jews were inclined to leave the country for Israel or North America once they reach adulthood, Allovi, a 32-year-old Istanbul native, said: “The young Jews usually stay. It’s [Turkey] where I was born, the place I feel the most attached to. It’s also my native language and the food, everything. Most of my friends are Muslim, and I feel that I have more similarities with a Turkish Muslim than, say, a French Jew or a Jew from somewhere else just because they’re Jewish. We grow up together, go to the same schools, watch the same soap operas.” The Karakoy neighborhood’s Jewish museum, which Allovi administers, traces a narrative of co-existence from the sheltering of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 through the rule of Ataturk and the founding of the modern Turkish republic. The theme of Turkish tolerance of Jews and Jewish assimilation in Turkey and the Ottoman Empire is highlighted with exhibits that include photos of Jewish soldiers in Ottoman military uniforms, a tallit from 1898 stitched with the crescent and star and a menorah built in the shape of a minaret. Turkey’s Jewish population has been depleted by decades of immigration to Israel and elsewhere. Today, about 90% of Jews in Turkey live in Istanbul. A small community of about 2,300 Jews resides in Izmir. More than 96% of the community is Sephardi, and Ladino is still spoken widely, especially among the older generation. The high security at Jewish sites across the country attests to the caution and trauma that remain from several devastating terrorist attacks over the past three decades. On November 15, 2003, trucks carrying explosives slammed into the Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues during Sabbath services, killing 27 people and wounding hundreds. In a previous attack at the Neve Shalom synagogue, in 1986, men from the Abu Nidal terrorist organization gunned down 22 worshippers on a Sabbath morning. Years later, in 1992, a bomb exploded outside the synagogue, causing no casualties. Taylan Bilgic, a senior editor at the Hurriyet Daily News, the English-language version of the Turkish Daily Hurriyet, spoke of the Palestinian issue as something that stokes strong passions across Turkish society and will continue to be highlighted by players like Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party and others who want to enhance their support in the country. “On the left and right, [from] Muslims to atheists they all have a connection to the Palestinian cause. It’s beyond ideology,” Bilgic said. “You may have primitive Islamists who are trying to utilize this emotional bond for their own purposes, but what politician wouldn’t?” Bilgic added that he believes that Erdogan and many of his base supporters subscribe to a sort of “primitive anti-Semitism.” It is a sentiment that is not common among Turks generally, he said, but could potentially affect the country’s Jewish community if the tension with Israel worsens. “If the government manages to make its primitive anti-Semitic ideology take root in society, it could spill over on the Jews here, but I don’t think it will. It depends on Israel and what Israel agrees to do about the Palestinians,” he said. Read More...%A %B %e%q, %Y No Comments

The Jewish Daily Forward 9/20/11 By: Ben Hartman ISTANBUL — The diplomatic clash between Israel and Turkey may be escalating, but many within Turkey’s 23,000-strong Jewish population insist that it is nothing more than politics for them, with no practical effect on their lives or security. “In daily life, we don’t fear anything from the […]

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