Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turkey's "Foreign" Citizens - Burak Bekdil

by Burak Bekdil

For most Islamists, there is no difference between the words "Israel," "the Israeli government," "Jew" or "Turkish Jew:" they are all the same, and are all regarded with hostility.

In 2008, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's official news agency, Wafa, reported that Israel had released poison-resistant rats to drive Arab residents of Jerusalem out of their homes. Scientists are still trying to understand how rats are trained to distinguish between Muslim, Christian and Jewish residents of a city.

In 2011, Saudi Arabia announced that it had "detained" a vulture carrying an Israeli leg band. The griffon vulture was carrying a GPS transmitter bearing the name of Tel Aviv University, and was condemned for being a part of a "Zionist espionage plot." We are still waiting to hear if the bird was beheaded or sentenced to life in prison.

Also in 2011, one of the two Turkish celebrities, who had been accused of raping prostitutes, defended himself by saying that the whole incident was "an Israeli plot against him."

In 2012, a migratory bird, a common bee-eater, caused alarm in a southeastern Turkish village after villagers thought it was an Israeli spy. The villagers' suspicions were aroused when the bird was found dead in a field with a metal ring around its leg stamped "Israel." After deciding its nostrils were unusually large and may have carried a microchip fitted by Israeli intelligence for spying, they called the police.

Also in 2012, Turkish authorities "detained" a kestrel with a similar ring on its leg. The bird was subjected to an x-ray to check if its body contained espionage gear. No joke; in the hospital, the name recorded on the bird's x-ray card was: Israeli spy.

A year later, when millions of Turks rose up against the undemocratic practices and rights abuses by their government in more than 70 cities, the government-friendly media and one minister blamed the riots on the Jewish lobby in general, and the American Enterprise Institute [AEI] in particular. That charge prompted Michael Rubin of the AEI to write in a June 2013 blog posting titled "A little bit of crazy from Turkey:"
"Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can't even get Jewish conspiracies right: Doesn't he know that on Sundays, we control the banks. On Mondays, we control the newspapers. On Tuesdays, we think about how we can stage terrorist attacks and blame al-Qaeda. On Wednesdays, we attend meetings with George Soros to discuss interest rates. On Thursdays, we plan atrocities and then order the international media to broadcast cooking shows so no one need see the violence. On Fridays, we hunt Christian children so we can use their blood to make matzoh. On Saturdays, exhausted, we rest."
Such is the level of collective derangement in a country of 75 million. Quite naturally, it makes an impact on the collective psyche of Turkey's dwindling Jewish community, now barely numbering 17,000 people, who mostly live in the country's biggest metropolis, Istanbul.

If you drive along the Adnan Saygun Avenue in the city's upscale Ulus district and reach the corner of the street where the compound of the Bulgarian Consulate neighbors a rather secluded building, you will notice a police car waiting outside a concrete wall that leads to a gate made of steel bars, and attended by security guards in civilian clothes.

This is the entrance of Ulus Ozel Musevi Okullari, a Jewish school where about 700 students from kindergarten to high-school level study. The security procedures after the gate opens would make you think you are entering either the U.S. or the British consulate building in Istanbul (the British consulate, along with two synagogues and a British bank were bombed 11 years ago this week).

The interior of Neve Şalom Synagogue in Istanbul, which was bombed along with the Bet Israel Synagogue on November 15, 2003, killing 27 people and injuring over 300.
At the weekend, the Jewish school in Ulus hosted this year's Limmud Festival, which started in 1979 as a British-Jewish educational charity ("Limmud" comes from the Hebrew word "to learn"). The charity produces events on the theme of the Jewish learning in nearly 70 communities in 34 countries, including Turkey. Limmud started in Turkey in 2005; this year's event brought together 1,300 participants and nearly 100 speakers, including this author.

In conference talks and in private, most members of Istanbul's Jewish community voiced "serious and increasing" concern over their increasingly secluded and riskier lives in the country where their ancestors first arrived 522 years ago. Turkey is their country. And it is not.

They carry Turkish passports. They pay their taxes. Their sons are conscripted into the military. They vote in Turkish elections. They have Turkish ID cards. They make up a peaceful, law-abiding society minding their own business. They remain loyal to their country, Turkey. But they are "foreigners" in their own country. Ordinary Turks, even their own Turkish friends, refer to them as "foreigners."

"Should we pack up and leave?" one of them asked. A middle-aged woman objected: "Why should we be forced to leave our country? We are Turkish, and this is our country."

"Do you think our businesses are in danger of governmental discrimination?" a businessman asked. Others in the hall knew the answer.

"Would this school have to maintain the same level of security at its gate had it been, say, a Georgian school?" a man asked. "If it had it been a Japanese school or an Indian school? Or, to put it in reverse, would this Jewish school have to maintain the same level of security had it been located in Japan or Georgia?"

For most of Turkey's Islamists, there is no difference between the words "Israel," the "Israeli government," "Jew" or a "Turkish Jew:" They are all the same and are all regarded with hostility. Such a view makes Turkey's Jews part-time citizens only. They fulfill their duties to the country they belong to, only to live in fear.

Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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