Nearly three years ago, the Israeli news site Ynetnews.com published an opinion piece written by a Turkish-Jewish girl. She wrote: "…I have never had the need to discuss my Jewish identity, let alone my Israeli identity… We are a Jewish family with a connection to Israel, and as fit for a Turkish family we enjoy... freedom of religious rituals and worship. Holidays and vacations, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish after-school clubs, all out in the open, and with no reason to fear… (Nov. 17, 2011)"
Just when I suspected that the author must be describing a Turkey other than the one I lived in, her final line confirmed that it was the same Turkey: "Despite my love for Turkey, I have chosen to remain anonymous, in case, well, you know..." Well, I knew...
Last month, Georgia and Jak Karako, a prominent, affluent Jewish couple, were found stabbed to death in their apartment in Istanbul's upscale Ortakoy neighbourhood, amid President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan's thundering speeches that, "Israel was worse than Hitler," and regular attacks on Israel's diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul, including rocks thrown at -- and hundreds of angry Turks trying to break into -- the diplomatic compounds. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, was quoted as saying: "We will conquer the consulate of the despicable murderers."
Unfortunately, the Jewish couple had already been slain. But fortunately, this was not a crime motivated by anti-Semitism. The police quickly caught the suspects, an Uzbek couple who worked for the Karakos. They confessed to the killing. It was a simple criminal act like hundreds of others committed in Turkey everyday.
All the same, the poor couple's funeral service at the Ulus Askenazi Jewish cemetery was revealing. In fear of an attack, tight security scanned every guest. If you are a Jew in Turkey, not even funeral is peaceful. All synagogues in Turkey -- as well as Jewish (and some other non-Muslim) schools -- are heavily protected.
Security for Jewish buildings is justified, not a sign of paranoia.
In March, Zafer Caglayan, the former economy minister who was forced to resign in the wake of a graft scandal (in which he was indicted for taking bribes to the tune of 52 million euros), showed up at a public rally, not looking like a man in embarrassment, but a man ready to insult.
In a not-so-subtle reference to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom he believes was behind the graft allegations, Caglayan said: "A Jew or an atheist or a Zoroastrian would do all these things to us. Shame on them if these things are done by those who claim to be Muslim. How can a Muslim do this?"
Zafer Caglayan (right), a former economy minister indicted for taking bribes, said of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen (left): "A Jew or an atheist or a Zoroastrian would do all these things to us. Shame on them if these things are done by those who claim to be Muslim. How can a Muslim do this?" (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
In a sane country, Mr. Caglayan would have been prosecuted for that remark. In Turkey, he can be rewarded.
In April, a Turkish judge shared the following magnum opus on his Facebook account:
"We love you Recep Tayyip Erdogan
We love you because those who do not love you, do not love this nation;
Because Zionist Israel and its conspirators do not love you;
Because the world's oppressed and Muslims love you;
Because you are one of us, one of your nation;
God save you and make you victorious,
Earlier, upon Erdogan's election victory on March 30, he had written that, "The losers (at the ballot box) are Zionists and their conspirators." Just imagine a Turkish Jew having a legal dispute with a Muslim Turk and facing this judge in the courtroom...
There was one problem, though, about the judge's logic. If all of those Turks who do not love Erdogan are Zionists, election results show that there are nearly forty-four million Zionists in Turkey!
And in July, during Hamas's war on Israel, an Islamist columnist in daily Yeni Akit, Faruk Kose, addressed both Turkey's Jewish community and Erdogan:
"You came here after you were expelled from Spain; you have lived comfortably among us for 500 years and gotten rich at our expense. Is this your gratitude -- killing Muslims? Erdogan, demand that the community leader apologize!"
Practically, the man's logic dictates that the Turkish Jews should apologize for the war in Gaza only because they are Jewish. But this thinking has found a partial response from Istanbul's Jewish intellectuals who denounced being targeted over Israel's recent operations in Gaza, describing attempts to hold them responsible for Israel's policies as "racist."
As usual, apparently Muslims are allowed to kill Muslims as they like, only Jews are not.
In an Aug. 29 letter, prominent figures including scholar and columnist Soli Özel, leftist writer Roni Margulies, economist Cem Behar and former radio host and activist Avi Haligua, emphasized that, "it is incumbent upon us to express an opinion on the attack on Gaza precisely to the same degree that it is on any other citizen of Turkey, no less, and certainly no more. ... No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all."
Nonetheless, the group went on to say, "We wish to declare we are opposed to the Israeli state's policies on Gaza, not because we are of Jewish origin, but because we are human... all of us are opposed to Israel's aggression, militarism, expansionism and the violence it brings upon the Palestinian people."
I am not sure if the girl who wrote to Ytnetnews.com three years ago still thinks of those "holidays and vacations, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish after-school clubs, all out in the open, and with no reason to fear," but I do hope that she is looking out for her safety.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.