Rifat N. Bali
Turkey’s Jewish community is one of the few remaining Diaspora communities in a country with a Muslim majority. Despite its apparent dynamism, its long-term viability is doubtful. The community does not have any influence or play any role worth mentioning in Turkey’s cultural, political, or intellectual life. Furthermore, in recent years the entire community has become the target of much resentment and hostile rhetoric from the country’s Islamist and ultranationalist sectors.
Another problem concerns the question of identity. In Turkey, a “Zionist” education-stressing both Jewish tradition and a connection with Israel-is used to prevent Jewish youth from further assimilation. But such an education is extremely difficult to impart under the conditions prevailing in Turkey. Jewish parents counsel their children not to display Star of David necklaces in public, and to remain silent and if possible completely ignore the constant, hateful, often slanderous criticism of Israel in the Turkish public sphere.
The Mavi Marmara incident was an acid test for Turkish Jewry. It came as no surprise that the public perceived the incident as the murder of Muslim Turks by the Jewish army and started asking Turkish Jews whose side they were on. The incident also triggered a wave of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories in the Turkish media and among public figures. For the most part, the Turkish Jewish leadership found itself unable to address the issue publicly.
For the situation to change, Turkish society would have to veer away from the current insular nationalist and Islamist atmosphere and move in a more liberal, democratic, multicultural direction. Turkey could then both come to grips with the darker aspects of its past and work for a different and better future. At present, the indications that such a transition might occur are mixed at best.