Turkey has just commemorated the Struma disaster, a tragic episode 74 years ago when a boatload of Holocaust survivors was sunk, violating Turkey's wartime neutrality. It is the second time the victims have been officially remembered and is seemingly part of Turkey's recent charm offensive towards the Jewish community and Israel. But anti-Semitism in Turkey has reached frightening levels of intensity, writes Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute.
Turkey's sinking of the Struma claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews fleeing the Holocaust
Until this year Turkey, one of the main culprits, had only once
commemorated the victims. This year, official Turkey decided, should be
the second time. A wreath and carnations were hurled at the sea in the
shadow of the horrible event that took place decades ago.
At the commemoration ceremony at Sarayburnu harbor on the Bosporus
were the head of Turkey's Jewish community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, Chief
Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul's governor, Vasip Sahin. In his speech,
Sahin said: "We observe that the necessary lessons were not drawn from
such tragedies." He was right, at least from a Turkish point of view.
When it comes to diplomatic conflict between Turkey and Israel or
Turkish anti-Semitism, there is always an unusual optimism in the
official language chosen by Israeli officials or Jewish community
For instance, Ibrahimzadeh praised
"recent steps by the Turkish state to mend history with the Jewish
community." Echoing the same optimism, chairman Stephen Greenberg and
executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents
of Major American Jewish Organizations, assured
that Turkey's small (less than 17,000-strong) Jewish community feels
"safe and secure" despite being placed in the middle of a political feud
between Turkey and Israel -- sparked first in 2009 by then Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's clash with former Israeli
President Shimon Peres at a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos,
Such optimism in official narratives is normal, especially because
Ankara and Jerusalem have been privately negotiating a deal to end their
hostilities and normalize their diplomatic relations. Non-constructive,
let alone explosive, speeches from any state or non-state actor will
not help diplomats from either side in their efforts to reconcile. All
the same, facts on the ground are a little bit different than the rosy
If Turkish Jews are "safe and secure" in Turkey, why do they feel
compelled to protect their schools and synagogues with heavy security?
Why do most synagogues in Istanbul look almost like a U.S. embassy in
Baghdad or Islamabad?
On Jan. 20, 2016, a Turkish synagogue in an old Jewish neighborhood
in Istanbul was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti days after holding
its first prayer service in 65 years. Vandals painted the external
walls of the Istipol Synagogue with the script: "Terrorist Israel, there
"Writing anti-Israel speech on the wall [outside] of a synagogue is an act of anti-Semitism," said Ivo Molinas, editor-in-chief of Turkish Jewish newspaper, Şalom. "Widespread anti-Semitism in Turkey gets in the way of celebrating the richness of cultural diversity in this country.
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