Turks prepare for elections
How will Turkey's Jews vote?
Ynet special: Jews in tough spot ahead of elections, with Israel-Turkey ties at all-time low
Just over 10,000 Jews throughout Turkey - a number almost too insignificant to mention - will be heading to the polls Sunday as tens of millions of voters, 99.8% of which are Muslims, will hit the polling stations.


The Jewish vote, negligible or not, is both intriguing and interesting at a time when the elections are accompanied by the heavy burden of the deterioration in relations between the Israel Turkey.



A quick search through Turkey's main news sites revealed an incredible fact: At nearly every speech, at almost every rally, the two leading candidates - Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current prime minister who stands at the head of the AKP and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP, raise the issue of Israel-Turkey relations and the Gaza flotilla – with accusations, finger-pointing and a great deal of wrangling.


Where is the Jewish vote in all of this? "We don't go into politics. Each person knows who and what he will vote for and does so. It doesn't make sense for the Jewish community to deal in politics."


Possibly it is this short sentence, the only remark Turkey's Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva agreed to share with Ynet, that symbolizes the position of Turkey's Jews on the eve of the 2011 elections.


Last year, following the events of the Gaza flotilla and the incidents on the Mavi Marmara, Rabbi Haleva harshly criticized Israel, accusing it of unnecessary provocation and inappropriate behavior.


The rabbi even went on to praise Erdogan and claimed that he "was making a clear distinction between the State of Israel and the Jews of his country and ensuring their safety."


Most likely, the above statements aren't a true expression of Rabbi Haleva's opinions. After all, it was Rabbi Haleva who a short time after his son Yitzhak was injured in the 2003 terror attack at the Istanbul synagogue rushed to declare: "No one will succeed in breaking my Jewish pride and my connection with Israel."


The criticism of Israel and the Turkish fez he wore on his head were likely part of his attempt to prove his loyalty to benefit a higher cause, one which has been marked by Jewish leaders and rabbis for generations – defending the Jewish community and keeping it far from any inflammatory cause that could harm it.


Protecting the community

Turkey's Jews number 20,000 – a drop in the ocean among the 80 million residents of the Turkish republic.


"Jews don't have a political body, they have the rabbinate and that is it. Their leadership isn't political and it is clear that they don't want to come out with declarations that could endanger the Jewish community," Denis Ozlu, a well known born and bred Istanbul resident said, explaining the motives of community officials.


Ozlu, who unlike many in Turkey's Jewish community openly declares that he will be voting for CHP, said: "If I were to be the community's official voice I would also express myself differently".


Spokesman for the Turkish expats association in Israel, Refael Sadi, also came out in defense of Rabbi Haleva, who was once his teacher.


Will Erdogan win again? (Photo: EPA)


Sadi, who made aliyah in the '90s, studied at university with Erdogan at Istanbul University's economics program between 1974 and 1978. Until recently the two still maintained their friendly relationship and Sadi' who runs a news site that caters to Turkey's Jewish community, interviewed Erdogan for the Jewish newspaper when the prime minister visited Israel.


Yet the deterioration in relations between the two countries led the two to drift apart. According to Sadi, the Jewish silence over the upcoming elections doesn't stem from direct fear of Erdogan who, if one takes the way he presents himself to the West as equality loving supporter of religious freedom, can't hurt the Jews directly.


"The fear is of extremist organizations in the country that receive reinforcement from the prime minister's statements against Israel," Sadi said.


According to Sadi, although Erdogan declares that Turkey's Jews are an inseparable part of the Turkish nation, his statements against Israel give legitimization to the hatred expressed against Jews on the Turkish street.


'Erodgan wants democratic Islamic state'

Describing the heated atmosphere days before the election, Jackie Angel, a Turkish Jew from Istanbul who made aliyah when he was 13 and returned to Turkey after 15 years, said: "There are massive rallies every day. On Friday there were 300,000 people in Izmir and 200,000 were at the square here last week."


And yet, he added that "the fact that the winner seems almost a forgone conclusion means that people aren't very excited here."


Angel said that he was planning to vote for the opposition party in the elections but even if the forcasted results are proved to be correct and Erdogan gets reelected, Angel doesn't believe that the situation in Turkey will witness any drastic change.


"Erdogan doesn't have 70% of the vote, far from it. There are other parties that will balance him," he said.


And what would happen if he did have the electoral power? Angel estimated that Erdogan "would change all the laws from a religious perspective, not to an extreme like Syria or Egypt, but he would still aspire to create a democratic Islamic state."


Angel believes that most Turkish Jews will be voting for the opposition party (CHP) "like every election" but pointed out that he never forgot, not for a moment, the stories his father told him describing how just a few years back the heavy taxation under which the Jewish community suffered was imposed by none other than the opposition party.


Yet alongside the sweeping support given to the CHP by the Jewish community, Angel said that Turkey's stable economic situation has brought about Jewish support for Erdogan's party.


"It (the economic situation) influences people; they see the situation in the world and economies collapsing. People think of themselves," he said.


Jewish discomfort

Tal Eritz, 51, was born in Izmir and now lives in Antalya. She represents the other side of the political map, and is a rare example of someone who speaks out openly, expressing anger over Erdogan's statements against Israel.


She told Ynet about her sister and niece who live in Israel and are afraid to visit her. She also tells of a great deal of anger within the Jewish community towards Ankara's attitude to Israel, the Chabad representative who left because there are no longer any Israeli tourists, and even the Turkish merchants in the Souk who have no business and keep asking her when will the tourists from the Holy Land return.

Thus, even though her friends tell her she shouldn't speak openly against the Turkish authorities, Eritz said she wasn't afraid.


"Heaven forbid that I would vote for the ruling party. I'll vote for Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan's remarks are intended for anti-Jews and anti-Israelis; he wants their vote," she said.


The position of Turkey's Jewish community became nearly untenable in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Relations between Israel and Turkey were at an all-time low and billboards started popping up throughout Istanbul's streets with slogans claiming "you can't be the children of Moses – thou shall not murder" in Hebrew alongside images of bloodied baby shoes.


The billboards were the work of a certain solidarity group, and their appearance led Turkey's Jews to come out against billboards of that kind. The atmosphere that followed and the accusations hurled at Israel by the Turkish public all led to a great deal of discomfort for local Jews.


"In the days after Operation Cast Lead and the Gaza flotilla it wasn't pleasant to be a Jew here, there were concerns," said Angel but immediately added that Erdogan's statements that he had nothing against Turkey's Jews and Jews in general are not completely unrealistic.


"During Erdogan's term in office there was no adverse effect on the Jewish community," he said.


Angel believes that Erdogan is amassing political assets through his harsh remarks against Israel – remarks that heat up the whole of Turkey. But he explained that the harsh words on the eve of the elections will make no difference.


"He's using the 'child killers' angle as well as the Syrian issue. It bothers us, we want a healthy relationship with Israel, but this isn't the US, and obviously 12,000 voting Jews won't make a difference," he said. 



פרסום ראשון: 06.10.11, 22:37
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