Conflict & Justice

Tensions rise for Jews in Turkey


Turkish riot police stand guard as Maccabi Tel-Aviv players walk towards a bus at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, on Sept. 14, 2011.


Bulent Kilic

There are no Jews in Jordan and possibly a dozen Jews in Egypt, once the cradle of a great Jewish culture, but Turkey is different. About 20,000 Jews live in Turkey. Cenk Levy, 33, lives in Istanbul and works for Greenpeace.

“Weeeell,” he says. “It is not so tense regarding the Jews. You don’t hide it, but you don’t feel very comfortable regarding your identity these days.”

His name is Levy. “Yeah, absolutely,” he laughs. “It’s very, very obvious!”

“You hear many statements about how the main problem here is the government, but we have also started to hear about how people themselves are turning. It’s not like it was three or four years ago. People don’t trust Israel, they don’t trust what Israel does. It’s becoming clear that this could disrupt business relations and other ties, not only military.”

For now, sport remains an area of intact relations. Last night, Istanbul’s Besiktas soccer team played Maccabi Tel Aviv at home.

Tel Aviv fans who went to support their team reported the paradoxical experience in which merchants and restauranteurs, hearing they were Israelis, welcomed them warmly and with explicit expressions of friendliness. Meanwhile, on the radio they heard that thousands had gathered n Istanbul’s central square to chant anti-Israeli slogans.

Cenk Levy watched the match at home.

“Bekistas were trying to reduce tensions as much as possible before the match, to emphasize that it is part of a friendship and sport. They went to some lengths to emphasize that there is a clear distinction between politics and sport, and that there are also Muslim players playing for Israel. There was also very high security in the stadium.”

“I think there was only one anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, slogan heard during the entire game.”

Maybe it helped that Bekistas won, 5-1.

“Things are a bit depressing,” Levy added. “This didn’t start yesterday, with the match, or a month ago. It’s been a long campaign and as you see it moving forward, and with the flotilla incident, now my sense is that the government is using Israel as leverage to stabilize themselves politically in the new Middle East.”