Jews flee Turkey over anti-Semitism
Negative atmosphere, fear for personal safety prompt many young Turkish Jews to emigrate, mainly to US and European countries – but also to Israel. 'The Muslims don't distinguish between Israel and local Jews. As far as they are concerned, if you're Jewish you're not a Turk,' one of emigrants says
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Members of the local Jewish community are keeping mum over the situation, but off the record some of them describe an explosive situation which may erupt at any moment following careless statements.
"They can't talk," one of the young Jews who immigrated to Israel about two years ago following the flotilla affair told Ynet. "The current situation will only deteriorate, and in 16 years Turkey may not even be a democratic country anymore."
Turkish newspaper Daily News Hürriyet reported this week that the negative atmosphere and deteriorating relationship between the two countries was putting pressure on the small community of nearly 15,000 Jews, prompting young Turkish Jews to flee to safer places.
Uncomfortable with being 'othered'
According to the report, the wave of emigration follows the ongoing tension with Israel since the notorious "one minute" spat between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos in 2009 and the deadly IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News that anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the US or Europe.
He expressed unease on the remarks of Turkish leaders against Jews, which he said did not contribute to perception of Turkish people.
“Look the environment in Turkey at the moment. We are uncomfortable with being 'othered'... I am more Turkish than many. But we couldn’t make them believe it,” he said.
Sources in the local Jewish community told Ynet that the Hürriyet Daily News interview sent the community members into a "defensive alert."
A member of the Jewish community in Istanbul said he could not give an open interview about the atmosphere against Jews in the country, in light of the sensitive and explosive situation. The current tensions, he explained, could lead to an additional deterioration in the bad relations and to attacks on Jews and their property.
"I am pretty familiar with the situation, unfortunately," says a young man who immigrated to Israel with his wife following the flotilla incident. He asked to remain anonymous in order to protect his family members, some of whom are still living in Turkey.
"The prime minister speaks the way he speaks, and they all hear him and do the math. The young people who want to change their lives and have children don't want to raise them in such an atmosphere," he explains.
Prefer to go rather than fight
"The Muslims in Turkey fail to distinguish between Israel and the local Jews. As far as they are concerned, if you're not Muslim you're not a Turk. You can even serve in the army and have a significant Turkish identity, but in their eyes that doesn't count. They are not even interested in understanding. If you're Jewish – you're not Turkish."
Anti-Israel protest in Turkey (Photo: Reuters)
The negative atmosphere against Jews on the Turkish street, he says, is joined by a financial difficulty. Those who are not rich and don’t earn a lot of money cannot live comfortably in Turkey or even afford to send their children to a Jewish school.
"The Jewish school is very expensive," he says. "Most young Jewish families cannot afford it. They pay a sum of about NIS 50,000 ($14,195) for eight months of studies, not including the uniform and books. It's impossible.
"The choice is between sending the children to a low-standard Muslim public school, where they will be harassed and won't be able to express their Jewish identity – or immigrating. You can fight in order to survive as a Turkish Jew, or leave."
Every week, a Turkish family makes aliyah
Turkish-born Avraham Lego, who lives in Israel today, notes that every week the "old immigrants" are informed of another family making aliyah.
"It's not a wave of emigration," he clarifies, "but there is definitely a significant aliyah compared to the number of people who emigrated from the country in the 1990s," before the Erdogan era. Most emigrants, however, flee to the US and Europe.
"You must understand that there is no one to replace Erdogan," says the young immigrant who asked to remain anonymous. "He's here and he's not going anywhere. The current situation will only deteriorate."
And the current attitude towards Israel?
"There is really nothing here except money. Europe is in a recession right now, the money is in Arab countries. There, there are good investment opportunities. So if for that purpose you have to speak out against Israel and create crises – that's what he'll do. The goal is to improve Turkey's economy and its financial interests."
Have your friends emigrated too?
"People emigrate to Israel and Europe all the time. I have a friend who is married to a Muslim woman, and they have both decided to emigrate and raise their children here, in Israel, because life is more convenient here economically. There I had to pay NIS 20,000 ($5,700) a year for medical insurance, not including surgery. How much it is here? NIS 100 ($28) including everything?
"At the end of the day, in order to protect your freedom and your children's freedom, you much make changes. There are still young people who stay there. There are Jewish bloggers who write that they are Turks, and that this is their homeland and they're not leaving. But their number is diminishing.
"The bottom line is that it doesn't matter if they leave or not, it's enough that if they want to – they will always be able to do it. At least I hope so."