Erdogan Allies Attack Istanbul Synagogue, Warn of Further Violence Over Temple Mount Crisis
Activists from a Turkish fascist youth movement whose leader enjoys close relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul on Thursday, throwing rocks at the building and kicking its doors during a protest against Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrances to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The group threatened further protests as it marched away from the synagogue. “We can come here tomorrow just like we are standing here today,” one of its members warned. “You will not be able to get inside.”
Turkey’s Chief Rabbinate expressed concern that more attacks will be forthcoming and urged the government to act, declaring in a statement: “We condemn the provocative act in front of the Neve Shalom synagogue and expect the authorities to do what is necessary.” On Friday afternoon, the community announced that it had taken the “unprecedented step” of closing the synagogue for shabbat services on both Friday night and Saturday.
International Jewish groups also condemned the attack.
We condemn the protests at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul. We trust the Turkish Government will provide necessary security.
— ADL (@ADL_National) July 20, 2017
Shocking distortion of events at Temple Mount. Now protesters in Istanbul disrupt area around Neve Shalom synagogue
— B'nai B'rith Int'l (@BnaiBrith) July 21, 2017
“There is never any justification for threatening a synagogue and the Jews who come to pray there, particularly when it is a reaction to steps taken by Israel to protect the safety and ensure freedom of worship for Muslims at holy sites in Jerusalem,” said Stephen M. Greenberg, Chairman and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “President Erdogan has spoken of his commitment to protecting the rights of the Turkish Jewish community and we call on the Turkish government to take the needed precautions to continue to protect the synagogue and the Jewish community.”
Thugs from the Alperen Ocaklari — an ultranationalist youth organization linked to the right-wing nationalist Great Union Party (BBP) — arrived at the synagogue with the message that Turkish Jews would not be permitted to worship freely as long as Israel controls access to the Temple Mount site.
The group’s district head, Kursat Mican, called Israel a “terrorist state” and said Israeli authorities have been oppressing people at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount for a long time, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported.
“Israel has banned Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque for many years,” Mican said in front of the synagogue. “It has not stopped at that and now it is harassing our Palestinian brothers by putting x-ray devices at the entrances to our sanctuary. Our brothers are not able to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is limiting to freedom of religion, faith and worship.”
“We are carrying out a protest here,” he continued. “Zionists should pull it together. They shouldn’t prevent our brothers from the freedom to worship. We will prevent your freedom to worship here just like you are preventing ours there. We can come here tomorrow just like we are standing here today. You will not be able to get inside.”
The BBP Party is electorally insignificant and tends to support much larger parties, like the current ruling AKP Party of President Erdogan, as a means of maintaining influence. The party does play an important role in mobilizing support for Erdogan, campaigning furiously in favor of the April referendum which granted the Turkish leader near-dictatorial powers. The pro-government media treats the party favorably, dutifully reporting on meetings between Erdogan and the BBP’s Secretary-General, Mustafa Destici.
Violently anti-Kurdish and ideologically antisemitic, the BBP has worked with Islamists affiliated with Erdogan for several years. In May 2010, the BBP collaborated with the Islamist organization IHH and Western BDS activists in launching a “freedom flotilla” to Gaza. BBP activists were among the mob that attacked IDF soldiers with knives and baseball bats when they boarded the main ship of the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara. No stranger to terrorism, the party is closely linked with the fascist Grey Wolves organization, whose member, Mehmet Ali Agca, attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.
Further protests over the Temple Mount crisis by Islamist and nationalist groups are expected in the coming days, heightening the vulnerability of Turkey’s Jewish community of 18,000.
Opposition parties condemned the Neve Shalom attack. “Places of worship cannot be tools for political acts,” stated Istanbul lawmaker Baris Yarkadaş, of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) .
“What is the reason behind the government’s silence?” asked Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu, another CHP lawmaker.