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Marshall Answers Constantionple Chief Rabbi in Minority Rights Controversy

September 27, 1926
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Louis Marshall in a statement issued to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, made the following reply to the assertions of Rabbi Bejeranu Effendi, Chief Rabbi of Constantinople, concerning the national minority rights controversy.

“There is nothing that I can add to what I have heretofore said on this subject,” Mr. Marshall stated. “The comments of the Chief Rabbi indicate that he does not understand the situation. He is speaking in terms of Oriental exaggeration when he intimates that “the entire Jewish population has renounced its minority rights.” He and the Notables who undertook such renunciation do not constituted the Jewish people any more than the Three Tailors of Tooley Street constituted the people of England. The Treaties conferred rights of citizenship which could not be taken away by the Turkish Government, and conferred other fundamental rights which cannot be abdicated, even by “Notables,” without the consent of every individual concerned, and not even then without that of the League of Nations, which is the custodian of these rights. When the Minority Treaties were entered into there was no desire on anybody’s part to intervene in matters which were of Turkish concern, but only in those which were of international concern. In the interest of world peace it was regarded as essential that minorities in all of the nations affected by these Treaties the rights secured for them by these Treaties.

“The idea that the provisions of the Swiss Civil Code adopted by Turkey are a substitute for the rights guaranteed by the Treaties, indicates how uninformed the Chief Rabbi is. A civil code is subject to amendment at any time. Rights which it today may recognize may be taken away tomorrow by the majority. It is for that reason that even in the United States we are not content to have the fundamental rights of the individual protected merely by a code or by an Act of Congress of a Legislature. We have found it necessary to have them guaranteed in the Constitutions of the several States and the United States. The minority rights have for the same reason been guaranteed by the Treaties and by the League of Nations, which stands as a trustee for the rights so declared.

“Undoubtedly the Jewish religion teaches us to obey and respect the laws of the government under which we live. But that does not mean that when that government has by a solemn treaty made it a part of its fundamental law that we shall become citizens and remain citizens, and that as such we shall have the enjoyment of specified fundamental human rights, we shall at the instance of public officials surrender those rights as if they were merely scraps of paper. I regret to say that the Chief Rabbi fails to understand that he is playing with edged tools and that if he has counseled this abject abdication of the Magna Charta of the Turkish minorities, which includes not only Jews but other people, he has committed a capital sin in the eyes of God and man. The great Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, in the dark days of the twelfth century, rather than to subject the Jews of his country to exactions and oppressions, voluntarily spent seven years in prison and died there. He recognized the danger of an evil precedent, and rather than to sanction it he was ready to suffer torment and to surrender his life. What a contrast his glorious martyrdom affords to the cowardice manifested in the year 1926 by the Chief Rabbi of Constantinople, who is only thinking of his own skin and is utterly oblivious of the possible effect of his conduct upon the Jews who are agonizing in other countries,” Mr. Marshall concluded.

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