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December 16, 2014 12:07 pm

‘French Effect’ Hits Turkey as Jews Look to Future Outside of the Country

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avatar by Ben Cohen

A sign stating "This Location To Be Demolished" at the entrance to the Neveh Shalom synagogue, Istanbul, November 2014. Photo: MEMRI

The “French effect” – increasing numbers of Jews leaving a country because of anti-Semitic harassment and hostility from the media and radical politicians – is now emerging in Turkey, where a Turkish-Jewish businessman has warned, in an oped for the Istanbul-based Jewish newspaper Şalom, that a growing number of community members are heading for the exit.

“We face threats, attacks and harassment every day. Hope is fading,” wrote Moise Gabay, a professional in the tourism industry, in an article published on December 10.

In its summary of the article, leading Turkish daily Hurriyet highlighted Gabay’s claim that “around 37 percent of high school graduates from the Jewish community in Turkey prefer to go abroad for higher education … This number doubled this year compared to the previous years.”

Gabay also cited anecdotal evidence of increasing unease among Turkish Jews. “Last week, when I was talking to two of my friends on separate occasions, the conversation turned to our search for another country to move to. That is to say, my generation is also thinking more about leaving this country,” he related.

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Uppermost in Gabay’s mind, though, is the fear of anti-Semitic violence.

“The laws have changed. Hate speech is now a crime, but when is a lawsuit ever opened over hate speech against our community? I don’t blame the government alone for this. The opposition, civil society, unions and the democratic public sphere should be a shield for us. They should monitor these incidents. Are they waiting for the shooting of a ‘Hrant’ among us?” he wrote, in a reference to the murder of Hrant Dink, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist, by a teenage nationalist in 2007.

Turkish leaders periodically reassure Jews of their safety and worth – just today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described his country’s Jews as “the fundamental elements of Turkey” in his greetings for the Chanukah festival which begins tonight – but occasionally soothing words offer little hope in an increasingly hostile environment. Erdoğan himself has described Israel as “worse than Hitler” and, more recently, has lambasted Israel’s “occupation” of the Al Aqsa mosque (located on the same Temple Mount in Jerusalem where, ironically, the Chanukah story took place) as “cruel and barbaric.”

Such sentiments from the country’s authoritarian leader inevitably trickle downwards. As the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) observed in a report on Turkish anti-Semitism issued in September, “Antisemitic incitement by Turkish government officials, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s oft-repeated statements that Israel is more barbaric than Hitler, and antisemitic accusations and threats by the media that support and promote Turkey’s AKP ruling party have fostered an upsurge in antisemitism in the country. A recent survey by Gonzo Insight, the Turkish polling institute, found that in just 24 hours, on July 17-18, 2014, 27,309 Turkish Twitter users sent 30,926 Turkish-language tweets in support of Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.”

MEMRI quoted from several recent newspaper articles inciting outright hatred of Jews, including one by columnist Ibrahim Tenekeci in the pro-government daily Yeni Safak which stated, “It is an instinct of the Jew to do evil to men and to humanity. The Jew cannot live without evil and troublemaking.”

In a separate piece for the Gatestone Institute published this week, Turkish analyst Uzay Bulut placed into historical context the November 21 announcement by Dursun Ali Sahin, the governor of Edirne, a city close to Turkey’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria, that his “huge hatred” of Israel compelled him to turn the city’s synagogue into a museum.

“While those bandits blow winds of war inside al-Aqsa and slay Muslims, we build their synagogues,” Sahin said.

“Anti-Semitism in Turkey and Europe has been around for more than 2,000 years,” Bulut observed. “Hatred of Jews did not start with the re-establishment of the state of Israel. In modern Turkey, it has been promoted systematically for more than 90 years.”

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