Are the Jews of Turkey – Israel’s former ally in the region — in danger?
On Friday, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed alarm at the increasingly hostile environment towards Israel in Turkey that has extended itself towards that country’s Jews.
The ADL called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reject the targeting of Turkish Jews over Israel’s counter terrorist Operation Protective Edge — launched to silence the rocket fire aimed by Hamas at Israeli civilians – and to publicly assert that the Jewish community has the full support and protection of the state.
Instead, Erdogan issued an additional condemnation of Israel the next day, telling supporters in a speech at the Black Sea resort city of Ordu, “[Israelis] have no conscience, no honor, no pride. Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.” According to the Reuters news service, the Turkish leader repeatedly likened Israel to the Nazi murderers over the Jewish State’s current counter terrorist Operation Protective Edge against the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
But Erdogan was apparently persuaded by senior members of his Islamic AKP party to lower the heat against the Jews in his own country, if only a trifle. “I don’t approve of any [bad} attitude towards our Jewish citizens in Turkey despite all this. Why? They are the citizens of this country,” he said.
Approximately 17,000 Jews remain in the country. But the rising anti-Semitism combined with increasing difficulty for young Jews in finding a spouse is prompting families to emigrate at a much faster rate than they have in past years. Istanbul's Sephardic synagogue, the magnificent Neve Shalom, has been attacked by Palestinian Arab terrorists three times since 1986 -- most recently in 2003.
Neve Shalom Synagogue of Istanbul, June 2013.
As recently as June 2013, in order to enter the building, a visitor had find the small nonedescript entrance alley off to the side, then surrender one’s passport, walk through a metal detector and undergo a search carried out by grim Turkish security personnel. Some visitors were not allowed in anyway, depending upon the whim of the security guards.
Street view of Neve Shalom synagogue, Istanbul, June 2013.
The Sephardic Jewish Center was also well hidden, away on a side street in the center of Istanbul in a posh neighborhood filled with upscale restaurants. One would not know it was there, unless you knew what to look for. Even then, the entrance is hidden.
To find it, one enters a building and is greeting immediately by a friendly security man at the door who asks your business. An upscale shop is located on the ground floor, across the from desk.
If you know what to ask, and where you are going, you are passed through to the location of a small elevator, well protected with metal grating and heavy steel bars and locks. Several other security measures later, all with heavy reinforcements, and eventually one emerges into the offices of the Jewish news weekly, the Salom Gazette, housed in the Sephardic Jewish Center, the nerve center of Turkish Jewry. The Istanbul-based Center, which is struggling for resources — and survival — at this point, produces the only Ladino newspaper in the world. It is probably the only spot in the country where Jews can find materials in Hebrew, Ladino, and other languages about Israel and Judaism.