Turkish Jews have long had a secure position in Turkish society. Jews were one of the few peoples who had not rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, and so Turks—and Turkish school books—always treated them as far more loyal citizens than others. It was no wonder, therefore, that Turkey retained a relatively large Jewish community—probably the second-largest in the Middle East, as Iran’s Jewish population has continued to decline. The stability of the Turkish Jewish community has been one straw upon which those in denial about the change in Turkey have grasped. It’s time to stop the denial. According to Hürriyet Daily News:
Anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the U.S. or Europe, Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 21. This unease went before the Mavi Marmara incident, and was aggravated by the notorious “one minute” spat between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, according to Güveniş.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used religious incitement to reinforce his domestic political constituency, and anti-Semitism has permeated the Turkish bureaucracy. Rather than a bastion of tolerance, Turkey is a country in which the prime minister’s political allies can finance a movie featuring a subplot about Jews smuggling organs and then the prime minister’s wife can urge everyone to see it.
That the emigration occurs against the backdrop of Turkey’s economic boom of the past decade suggests that Turkish Jews aren’t simply taking advantage of their minority status to seek better economic opportunities. Rather, they are leaving because they are afraid of what Turkey is becoming. More liberal Turks and Turkish tour guides still like to point out the religious diversity of Istanbul society. They may need to change their talking points. Emigration often starts slowly, but it is a tide difficult to reverse. Within a decade or two, Turkey’s Jewish community might much more resemble Egypt’s. Unfortunately, that is a result Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would probably call success.