Turkish Jews Express Fears After Deputy PM Links Jewish Diaspora to Protests

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Turkey’s Jewish community expressed fears on Tuesday following remarks by a deputy prime minister who linked the “Jewish Diaspora” to recent anti-government unrest. The comments could make them targets of popular anger, they said.

Besir Atalay, one of four deputy prime ministers, on Monday accused foreign powers, the Jewish Diaspora and international media of triggering the demonstrations that have wracked the country over the last few weeks.

"World powers and the Jewish Diaspora prompted the unrest and have actively encouraged it," he said.

"We are trying to obtain information about the meaning, the scope and details of Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay's statement about the 'Jewish Diaspora being behind Gezi protests,'" the Turkish Jewish Community and chief rabbinate said in a joint statement on the community's website.

The Turkish Jewish Community, which represents most of Turkey's estimated 23,000 Jews, said Atalay's remarks could lead to reprisals against its members in a mostly Muslim country of 76 million.

"(Because) Turkish Jewish citizens, as well as other Jewish people living all around the globe, may be affected and pointed (out) as a target of such a generalization, we wish to express our concerns and share our apprehension and worry of the consequences that such perceptions can cause."

Turkey's Jews, most of who trace their roots here to the 15th Century when their ancestors found refuge in the Ottoman Empire from the Spanish Inquisition, have in recent years faced pressure as relations between Israel and Turkey soured.

In a letter to Namik Tan, Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States, the Anti-Defamation League called on the Turkish prime minster and other government officials to “publicly and vociferously reject Mr. Atalay’s statement.”

“The anti-Semitic nature of this conspiratorial statement would be disturbing if uttered by anyone in Turkey,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “It is all the more outrageous and harmful coming from such a high ranking member of the Turkish government. We share the concerns expressed by the Turkish Jewish community about the possible consequences of this rash remark.”

Ties between the erstwhile military allies hit a low in May 2010 when Israeli commandoes killed nine Turkish activists in storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a Turkish-led convoy seeking to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Zionism "a crime against humanity,” prompting objections from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. President Barack Obama subsequently orchestrated an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara raid.

While at least one other member of Erdogan's ruling party has suggested Jewish involvement in the Gezi protest, the remarks by Atalay, appeared to be the first such public accusation by a senior member of the ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.

On the microblogging site Twitter, the AK Party mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara, Melih Gokcek, said on June 16 the Gezi protests were a "a game of the Jewish lobby" and cited a Turkish newspaper report that a Washington-based think tank linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group had predicted the protests earlier in the year. 

Riot police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators in a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara. May 31, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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