Turkey Denies Jews Right to Labor; All Posts Closed to Them
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Turkey Denies Jews Right to Labor; All Posts Closed to Them

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From Turkey comes the news that a new law, which became effective June 6, forbids any but a Turkish subject the right to be employed. A non-citizen may not be a laborer, nor a skilled worker, nor even, in many instances, an office holder. Foreign subjects may, indeed, establish factories, workshops and businesses of all sorts, for foreign capital is needed and desired in the country, but foreign labor—that is forbidden.

Some 80,000 Jews, it is estimated, live in Turkey, about 45,000 of them in Constantinople. The Sephardic Jew is the most important community group, since the Ashkenazim number only about 5,000. They constitute whole towns, the rosters of which decrease annually, with a concomitant sinking of the standard of living. The latter phenomenon is due to some extent to the fact that the towns are heavily taxed, some of the new taxes weighing particularly upon the townsmen.


Many Jewish refugees from Russia went to Turkey, but most of them wandered out again, little by little. And for those left behind in Turkey there looms the question: whither? For while many of them would gladly become citizens of Turkey, so many new handicaps have been set on the road to naturalization that it is unspeakably difficult for a foreigner to follow it to the end, and for a Russian {SPAN}ref#gee{/SPAN} it is well-nigh impossible. On the basis of a treaty between Turkey and Soviet Russia the Turks may not grant citizenship to Russian refugees, Moslems only excepted. Many Russians, as well as an occasional Jew, therefore become converted to Islam simply in order to acquire Turkish citizenship.

Nominally this law applies only to Russian subjects. Non-Russians may, in theory, become naturalized after five years residence in the country. In practice the applications for citizenship are rejected—nor can the government be forced to justify such rejections. Moslems, on the other hand, find naturalization made easy for them, so that, as has been said, many non-Moslems find it advantageous to go over to Islam.


In many respects the plight of the Turkish Jews is worse than it was before the war. The law, of course, makes no distinction between nations and creeds, but in practice the rights of the Jews in the republic have been very much curtailed. Under the monarchy it was occasionally possible to find Jewish officers in civil and military service. Today there is no sign of a Jew in either institution. Postal and telegraph service, railroad and civic administration, are entirely free of Jews.

But it is in the army that the demotion of the Jews is most striking. Not only may the Jew not become an officer or a non-commissioned officer, but even as an ordinary soldier he is not permitted to serve in the usual fashion. He may not bear arms, but must perform the duties of a servant—pack-carrying, road-building, rock-breaking, cleaning, etc. The years of military service thus become for the Jew years of mistreatment, and it is therefore not to be wondered at that many Jews prefer to remain foreign subjects rather than become citizens with such limited privileges. And now, with the passage of the new law depriving foreigners of the right to work, many Jewish inhabitants of Turkey will lose all means of earning a livelihood.

Heretofore, Jewish emigration from Turkey has been headed towards South America and Europe, especially France. Since most of the Sephardim are pupils of the “Alliance,” they understand French. But of late Palestine, too, has entered the picture as a possible haven for the emigrant, although it cannot be said that the Turkish Jews are particularly eager to go to Palestine. Their national sense is not well-developed, and Jewishness is for them only a matter of religion which, every year, loses further in significance for them.

Zionism has virtually passed the Turkish Jews by without leaving a trace. A Hebrew newspaper is practically unknown in the country, and a Hebrew book seldom seen. Most of the women cannot even distinguish among the letters of the alphabet. The children of the poor only learn a bit of Hebrew in the course of their attendance at the Talmud-Torahs, where they are taught a few prayers and blessings. In the governmental schools there is no room for Hebrew. The high school of the B’nai B’rith in Constantinople, which is regarded as an institution of high standing and at the head of which there is a nationally-minded and enlightened Jew, devotes only a few hours a day to the teaching of Hebrew. The Hebrew attainments of the graduates of this school are negligible.

There is no Jewish public life in Constantinople and no Jewish national feeling, while the name of Palestine is rarely mentioned. The Turkish Jews have, it would seem, fallen into the error of thinking that they must not let the name of Palestine cross their lips, for Palestine was wrested from Turkey.

But Palestine is the land which, in the breakdown of the Jewish world, holds out an offer of a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of Jews. The realization of this fact is growing and is awakening the national consciousness and the national spirit inherent in the Turkish Jews but dormant in their sub-conscious selves.

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