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The Betrayal of Turkish Jews

For the past several months, the Jews of Turkey have been in the international spotlight. As Congress has debated the Armenian Genocide resolution, high-ranking Turkish officials have warned that Turkish Jews will be endangered if the resolution passes. And Jewish-American … Read More

By / November 15, 2007

For the past several months, the Jews of Turkey have been in the international spotlight. As Congress has debated the Armenian Genocide resolution, high-ranking Turkish officials have warned that Turkish Jews will be endangered if the resolution passes. And Jewish-American organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have repeatedly cited the predicament of Turkish Jews as reason to support Turkey's campaign of genocide denial.

In an effort to better understand the plight of Turkish Jewry, I interviewed several prominent scholars who have studied the community.

Ottoman Jews: Safety Through Loyalty

For 500 years, Jews have lived as a loyal minority in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire and the present-day Turkish republic. According to Turkish-Jewish scholar Rifat Bali, who has published several books on the history of Turkey's Jews, their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire allowed Turkish Jews to escape the tragic fate of the Empire's Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians.

"Turkish Jews were not involved in any sort of ethnic nationalism," says Bali. "The Zionist movement did not take root in Istanbul because the community leadership had witnessed the tragic fate of the Ottoman Armenians. [They] understood that the Ottoman leadership would perceive Zionism as a separatist nationalist movement and that this would have dire consequences. They therefore took an ‘anti-Zionist' position."

Like today's Turkish Jewish community, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire were utilized as international advocates for Turkish political goals. "Haim Nahum, the last Ottoman Chief Rabbi, was an ‘anti-Zionist' and a supporter of the Turkish Nationalist movement," says Bali. "He was sent by Mustafa Kemal to the USA and Europe for lobbying on behalf of the Kemalists."

Turkish Jews in the 20th century: Loyal Scapegoats

Turkish political groups that fight bitterly on other issues find common ground in blaming Turkish Jews for the country's ills. "Turkey's Jews have been scapegoated by the Islamist movement which started to grow in 1946," say Bali. "In 1969, the National Order Party began propagating its Islamist National View ideology, which accused Jews and Zionism of being behind all the troubles of Turkey." And in the ‘70s, Turkey's Jews were hostage to the clash between Turkey's ultra-leftists and ultra-rightists.

Turkish Jews Today

Adopting Muslim Names to Escape Attention

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