Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Turkish Jews Living under the Threat of Extremism

by David Bedein

JERUSALEM - A nervous Rabbi recently appeared at The Bulletin’s bureau in Jerusalem and related that the small Jewish community in Turkey feels threatened by the new Islamic resurgence and by the new Turkish alliance with Iran.

As a result, there is a a significant increase in the number of Jews leaving Turkey and immigrating to Israel.

One hundred and thirty five immigrants from Turkey have made the journey this year, compared with 108 in 2008.

The Jewish Agency predicts that, by the year’s end, some 200 immigrants will have come, nearly twice as many as in previous years.

The assessment is based on the fact that, for the first time in many years, Jewish Agency representatives are being swamped with calls. As of now there is a 100 percent increase in those expressing interest in immigrating to Israel, inquiring as to their rights and obligations - and for the first time, a long list of Jews hoping to relocate their businesses from Turkey to Israel.

Most of those asking to register as new immigrants explain that this is due to the new extremist attitudes towards Jews in Turkey.

One of those who have registered, a 39-yard-old father of four who did not give his name, is the owner of a large and prosperous shop in the capital. The man decided to sell his business and move to Israel.

“We are being harassed, Turkey is no longer the same Turkey. They listen to the words of the prime minister and refrain from setting foot in Jewish shops. Turkey is falling into extremism,” he explained.

He said that many of his Jewish colleagues were leaving for the West, not only to Israel, and others were considering doing so.

“We anticipated that the number of people interested in moving to Israel was going to rise, but we didn’t anticipate that there would be such a large number of people who wanted to immigrate and so swiftly,” said a senior Jewish Agency executive. He said that 600 Jews were expected to immigrate to Israel from Turkey in 2010, which is an unprecedented number.

Eli Cohen, the director of the Aliyah Department in the Jewish Agency, personally oversees the immigration of Turkish Jews told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that “2009 is going to be a very successful year in terms of Aliyah - immigration to Israel - mainly from Turkey. We are pleased with this and have been operating to absorb them across Israel in the best way possible.”

Mr. Cohen said that there has been a 20 percent rise around the world in immigration to Israel, after years in which interest had declined, and that interest in Turkey was significantly higher than that.

“That proves that Israel is the home of the Jewish people. We serve as a safe haven for Jews. We do everything we can to improve the methods of absorption and to give the new immigrants a sense of belonging,” said Mr. Cohen.

Three Jewish families that came from Turkey not long ago currently live in an absorption center in Ashdod. One of the families explained yesterday that the reason they decided to immigrate to Israel was the sense that the Turkish public was taking the statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan into action.

“I was born in Turkey, I grew up in Turkey, I know the Turks, and they’re tolerant of Jews. Regrettably, in the past year there has been a shift that has hurt the Jews. Curses, anti-Semitic comments, radicalization on the street - all of that left me with no choice. I took my family and immigrated to Israel. Some of my extended family intends to immigrate to Israel or to uproot for America,” said one woman who recently moved to Israel from Turkey.

View the original article in the Philadelphia Bulletin

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