https://ahvalnews.com/-Symbols of Jewish life and faith in Turkey are experiencing a renovation boom under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but there is suspicion this has been to distract from accusations of anti-Semitism against his tenure.
On Sunday, the Times of Israel reported that Jewish cultural sites in Turkey have experienced something of a renaissance under Erdoğan. Synagogues across the country have received funds for renovations while Jewish community groups are permitted to stage cultural events in the country.
Several of these endeavors are supported directly by the Turkish state, but others receive funds for improvement by opposition-led municipalities. For example, four out of Izmir’s nine synagogues have been renovated recently in a city run by the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP). Few Jews are known to live in Izmir with the majority of Turkish Jews residing in Istanbul, another city run by the CHP and a historic center for Jewish life in Turkey.
Jews have resided in Turkey for centuries. During the time of the Ottoman Empires, many Jews fled to its borders to escape persecution in Christian Europe, finding comparably more tolerance and acceptance under the Muslim realm. But Jews, like the empire’s Christians, still had to pay a specific tax as non-Muslim subjects and there were still acts of cruelty directed at the community by Ottoman officials.
Turkey was the first major Muslim state to recognise the state of Israel in 1949 and the two grew into close allies by the 1990s. However, the Turkish Jewish population has declined precipitously as emigration to Israel increased in the subsequent decades. According to several Jewish organisations, anywhere from 14,900 to 21,000 Turkish Jews remain in the country today.
There exists speculation that the support provided to Jewish centers in Turkey are more an attempt to distract from accusations of anti-Semitism aimed at Erdoğan. Last summer, Erdoğan vehemently criticised Israel’s airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and in Jerusalem when Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
“They are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They only are satisfied by sucking their blood,”Erdoğan seethed in a speech last May. In his remarks, Erdoğan used the terms “Jews” and “Israelis” interchangeably, echoing anti-Semitic tropes in history and prompted a rebuke from the U.S State Department.
Turkish officials rejected the characterisation and Jewish community leaders in Turkey rallied to Erdoğan’s defence. Despite this, polling shows that Israel itself is viewed very negatively in Turkey with 60.5 percent of Turks saying they consider the country a threat.
After a decade of poor relations, Erdoğan has moved to try and improve relations with Israel. On March 9, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is due to visit Turkey, the first Israeli leader to do so since Shimon Peres came to Ankara where he addressed the Turkish parliament.