Muslims and Jews in Turkey have a long history of friendliness. But that relationship is being tested by the public anger at Israel for the attack on the Gaza flotilla on Monday. From Istanbul, Matthew Brunwasser reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: Turkey is increasing security for its Jewish citizens and institutions today. Historically Jews in the Turkish Ottoman Empire faced little of the discrimination and violence suffered by Jews in Europe. But today, the long history of friendliness between Muslims and Jews in Turkey is under pressure like never before after Monday’s events off the Israeli coast. Matthew Brunwasser reports.
MATTHEW BRUNWASSER: At the Jewish Museum in Turkey, one of the few in the Islamic world, curator Naim Guleryuz explains the history of Turkey’s Jews to a group of Dutch tourists. Most Jews here are Sephardic. They are descendents of Jews invited by the Sultan after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. He says they brought with them a rich culture of their own.
NAIM GULERYUZ: The Sephardic Jews coming from Spain, bring with them the knowledge of The Golden Age in Andalusia when the Christians and Muslims and Jews together performed a lot in the arts.
BRUNWASSER: Guleryuz says Jews thrived in the multicultural empire because it was Ottoman policy to welcome ethnic minorities seeking a better life.
GULERYUZ: To be benevolent, not only to the Jews, but also to others, people coming from different countries, Jews, Christians, Muslims.
BRUNWASSER: But the political culture today in the Turkish Republic has changed. The Islamic ruling party has moved Turkey closer to its fellow Muslims in the Middle East at the expense of its historic strong ties with Israel. After Israeli commandos this week killed Turkish activists. Public anger is Turkey is burning and Guleryuz says the 22,000 Jews of Turkey are feeling the heat.
GULERYUZ: In politics there are not the feelings which count, it is the interests. The national interests of the countries guide the attitude. So what will happen tomorrow, I don’t know. For today, its really hard period and we Turkish Jews are very affected by what happened. We share the feelings of the whole country.
BRUNWASSER: Looking back at similar tensions in December 2008 during Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Guleryuz says Jews were initially frightened, but then things calmed down. Soli Ozel, the foreign editor of the Haberturk newspaper, who is Jewish, says Jews needn’t worry. He says Turkish to the Gaza crisis was much worse, and that blew over.
SOLI OZEL: This time around the government has been extraordinarily careful, in my judgment, very responsibly from the first moment onwards in making sure that one made a distinction between Israeli, Israeli policies, Jews in general, and especially Jews in Turkey. Everybody who ever opened their mouths was careful to point this out. That was not the kind of care we saw during Gaza.
BRUNWASSER: Back then he says, Anti-Semitic signs were posted in government buildings. Ugly language about Jews was used by the public and officials without restraint.
OZEL: I think so long as the state maintains its cool, and this is the kind of attitude that the state adopts, I don’t really see things worsening.
BRUNWASSER: Turkey sees itself as a responsible and constructive power in the Middle East, Ozel says. And it doesn’t want to jeopardize its position. But in this tense atmosphere, Turks seem unable to imagine how relations with Israel could recover. The Jews of Turkey hope the government will step in to prevent attacks. For The World, I’m Matthew Brunwasser in Istanbul.
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