Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a demonstration
Protesters burn an Israeli flag during a demonstration against Israel's attack on the Gaza aid convoy at Taksim square in Istanbul on May 31, 2010 Photo by AP
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ISTANBUL - Faced with anti-Israel rage in the streets, Israeli tourists have kept their profiles low and stayed close to their hotel rooms in Turkey these last few days, while the 25,000 strong Jewish community went about its business as quietly as possible, and family members of Israeli diplomats posted here flew home as a security precaution. The consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in Ankara remained shuttered for a third day yesterday with police, some in full riot gear, surrounding their buildings.

Ambassador Gabi Levy's home in Ankara was also given protection, as was that of Consul General Moshe Kamhi in Istanbul. Synagogues in both major cities, which were closed on Monday, reopened yesterday - with police protection. "Yes, we are worried," said Ivo Molinas, editor in chief of the weekly Shalom, based in Istanbul. "This anger against Israel can easily turn into anti-Semitism. You can feel it," said Molinas.

Besir Atalay, the Turkish interior minister, said security has been stepped up at 20 points alone in Istanbul, which has several synagogues and Jewish centers. "We had tens of thousands of people demonstrating outside and burning Israeli flags for two nights running, so clearly we are not going to be going into the office to work," said one Istanbul-based diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak to the press. It was unclear when the embassy or consulate would reopen, he added.

"This might pass by quickly, but, then again, it might not," said an Ankara-based diplomat, again speaking on condition of anonymity. "We are in uncharted territory," said the diplomat.

Tourists who tried to call members of the consulate or embassy for help were told that if they were very nervous about their personal security, they should consider simply buying new plane tickets and flying home early. If they decided to remain, they were advised to keep a low profile.

"I don't think we will be coming back anytime soon," said Kobi Aharoni of Rishon Letzion, who was in Turkey this week with his wife Ruti. Aharoni, a textile merchant, has been coming to Istanbul on business two or three times a year for eight years. On this trip, his business partner told him in no uncertain terms that he did not want to work with him anymore and canceled his orders.

"I don't think he felt pressure or that others would judge him," said Aharoni. "I actually believe that he himself just could not do it. He was angry."

The Israeli tried to explain that the soldiers were acting in self-defense, and that, anyway, what did politics have to do with their business? But all was in vain. "It was useless, and I have nothing to do here now," he said, recounting how he and his wife have been sneaking around and whispering in Hebrew "... as if we were in Jenin."