Turkish Jews are electing to leave the country in growing numbers, a Turkish daily reported Wednesday, citing “perceptions of rising anti-Semitism,” as well as the mounting tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem.
Turkey’s Jewish community, numbering nearly 15,000 and concentrated mostly in Istanbul, was reportedly bearing the brunt of the “negative atmosphere” caused by the government’s harsh rhetoric against Israel.
Hundreds of young Jews are opting to leave the country as it becomes more difficult to reconcile their Jewish and Turkish identities, with many heading to the US or Europe.
“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,” Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told Hürriyet. Economic relations between Israel and Turkey had suffered as well, he said, with Israeli businessmen hesitant to invest in a country increasingly viewed as hostile.
Another Turkish Israeli, who immigrated to Israel in recent years, told The Times of Israel that the situation in her home country was becoming “very bad.”
Citing a recent decision by the Turkish government to allow female civil servants to wear headscarves to work, she said it was bound to make secular woman uncomfortable about appearing bare-headed in public, and might even make them feel pressured to conceal outward signs of their way of life.
Güveniş, meanwhile, told Hürriyet that the pressure on Jews had begun to mount even before the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in clashes during an IDF commando raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla. It had begun before the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked off the stage after accusing President Shimon Peres of “killing people.”
Peres “is known in the world as a man of peace,” Güveniş, who made aliyah in 1981, told the paper.
Explaining his reasoning for leaving Turkey, he said his children “didn’t want to go to university where leftists or other groups were putting pressure on them to take sides. They went to university in Israel… The first two years in Israel were difficult, and we had to learn the language. But I don’t regret it.”
There are 80,000 Turkish Jews living in Israel today.
The Washington Post revealed last week that Turkish officials had exposed the names of up to 10 Iranians who had allegedly met with their Mossad handlers in Turkey. Officials in Ankara denied the report. Turkish daily Taraf claimed Monday that the US Congress canceled a deal to supply 10 Predator drones to Turkey as a result of the incident.