Exchange of Letters with Turkish President Erdoğan Regarding Hostility Towards Jews in Turkey

  • September 5, 2014


ADL LETTER TO PRESIDENT ERDOGAN

July 18, 2014

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey

Dear Mr. President, 

We are alarmed by the increasingly hostile environment toward Israel in Turkey, which now is extending to include the Turkish Jewish community.

This hostility has manifested in a number of areas, including your own comments comparing Israeli leaders with Hitler and harshly criticizing Israel, specifically your accusations that Israel is committing a “systematic genocide” against Palestinians.

There have also been several anti-Israel protests which have turned violent, including demonstrations Thursday night in Ankara and Istanbul outside of Israeli diplomatic offices and residences, where pro-Palestinian protestors hurled rocks and screamed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel epithets.            

Furthermore, there have been articles in Turkish newspapers blaming Turkey’s Jews for the situation in Gaza. One of the most disturbing appeared in the daily Yeni Akit in the form of an open letter from Faruk Köse to Turkey’s chief rabbi, calling on you to demand that the Jewish community apologize for Israel’s actions in Gaza, stating: 

“You came here after being banished from Spain. You have lived comfortably among us for 500 years and gotten rich at our expense. Is this your gratitude – killing Muslims? Erdogan, demand that the community leader apologize!”

In the same newspaper, an editorial highlighted the victims in Gaza and suggested that Turkey’s Jews should condemn Israel’s actions. “While all this is happening, the journal of the Jewish community in Turkey, ‘Shalom,’ is referring to the murder of children in Gaza as ‘taking care of terrorists,’” the editorial said. 

Mr. Prime Minister, as you well know, the Turkish Jewish community is not responsible for the policies and actions of Israel, and any suggestion they are is a form of anti-Semitism. Turkey’s Jewish community of approximately 17,000 people has been a vibrant part of Turkey’s social fabric for more than 500 years, yet in recent years has felt increasingly vulnerable to anti-Semitism. We therefore strongly urge you to publicly reject all expressions of anti-Semitism including the scapegoating of Turkish Jews for the actions of Israel, and assure the Turkish Jewish community that they continue to have the full support and protection of the state and people of Turkey.

Sincerely,

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director

RESPONSE FROM PRESIDENT ERDOGAN

(Translated from Turkish)

Ankara, 21 August 2014

Dear Mr. Foxman,

I have received your letter containing your thoughts on the public debate in Turkey in connection with Israel’s unconscionable assault on Gaza and expressing your pleasure of certain aspects of my speech which I delivered after I was elected as President. 

First of all, I would like to emphasize that the Jewish community in Turkey, which constitute a significant cultural richness of our society and has lived together in peace with other segments of our nation for centuries, need not be concerned with the Turkish public sentiments caused by the recent events in Gaza or feel vulnerable on grounds of anti-Semitism.

As I have repeatedly stated on numerous occasions, including in my speech after the presidential elections, which I am pleased has not escaped your attention as well, our Jewish citizens – with whom we have lived together for more than 500 years – are our equal citizens that fully enjoy all the rights and freedoms this country presents. In this regard, they sustain their visible presence in our country, with their educational and religious institutions, particularly in İstanbul and İzmir, devoid of any fear or concern.

Non-discrimination against those who are different from us and embracing all human beings, regardless of their religious, ethnic or linguistic backgrounds, simply for being who they are is the main building bloc of Anatolia’s culture of tolerance. For this reason, you may rest assured that anti-Semitism, which originated in Europe and Russia with different religious and philosophical roots will never gain grounds in Turkey. Presenting our country’s rightful reaction to Israeli Government’s actions, which violate the most basic rights and freedoms of the Palestinian people and hinder the peace process, as if anti-Semitism has escalated in Turkey and our Jewish citizens are under threat would be unfair. Whether practicing Judaism or any other religion, to feel enmity toward someone just because they are different has never and will never gain acceptance in this land.

Even during the first half of the 20th century when anti-Semitism reached its vicious peak, our country never allowed this ideology to enter our lands. On the contrary, we opened our borders to many people of Jewish descent who were subject to grave atrocities during and prior to World War II.

In line with this understanding, since 2008 Turkey has been an observer country in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, established to ensure that the genocide against the Jewish people that had taken place during World War II is not forgotten. Within this framework, we have organized numerous successful events in our universities. In addition, various events have been held in our country to observe the International Holocaust Remembrance Day during the past four years.

With this understanding, for hundreds of years our citizens of Jewish descent have had the opportunity to distinguish themselves in arts, sciences, trade, sports, and in many other walks of life and to provide invaluable contributions to our country. We are grateful for the contributions of our Jewish citizens to our country.

Our reactions to the human tragedy that has been taking place in Gaza should be evaluated separately from the existing friendly relations between the Turkish and Jewish people, and from our sentiments directed to our citizens of Jewish descent.

The military operation that Israel launched on 8 July, whose scope was subsequently expanded, is an extreme example of Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian people, with whom we have historical and emotional ties in our region. This has rightfully caused the indignation of the Turkish people.  

However, at a time when the emotional atmosphere emanating from the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza grew heavier, all necessary measures have been taken by our security authorities to prevent provocative acts in our country that could target our Jewish citizens. The safety of the members of Jewish community, that are equal citizens of this country, are under the guarantee of our state and it has to be known that an action against them will not be tolerated under any circumstance.

Having said that, I would like to underline one particular point. As every idea is freely discussed by public and media in today’s pluralistic world, criticisms on Israeli Government’s policies should also be considered in this context. Obstructing the criticisms to that end on the grounds of anti-Semitism, whereas this is not the case, will prevent the culture of democracy from taking root in the Middle East. In the long run, this situation will not be in the interest of Israel either. Indeed, I am pleased to have learned that the Turkish Jewish community is also of this rational opinion and that they sent a letter to the American Jewish Congress reiterating our statement that not all critics to Israel constitute anti-Semitism. I am also pleased that, in the above-mentioned letter, the Turkish Jewish community also called for the elimination of the existing crisis of confidence among all the parties amid the tragic casualties that have been taking place in the Middle East.

At a time when Israel, despite all the calls and warnings of the international community, continues its attacks to Gaza with growing intensity, targeting the only power plant in Gaza, UNRWA schools, hospitals and mosques, I am hoping that you also will show the necessary reaction to these illegal attacks that have so far claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 innocent Palestinians, including women and children, and left thousands injured.

With my best wishes,

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey