Reactions of U.S. Jewish Leaders
Menu JTA Search

Reactions of U.S. Jewish Leaders

Download PDF for this date

American Jewish leaders reacted with shock and horror to the mass murder of 21 Jews worshipping in Istanbul’s Neve Shalom Synagogue on Sabbath morning.

Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Sunday, “We are as horrified by this appalling criminal and insane act as we were by the bloody hijacking of the Pan American plane in Karachi.

“If the world is to rid itself of the obscenity of terrorism, nations must demand that such governments as Saudi Arabia, Syria, South Yemen and the Soviet Union — no less than Libya–must stop supplying terrorist gangs with arms, training, money and safe haven.

“The slaughter of Jews in Istanbul by Arab terrorists reminds us again that it is not only Israel but the Jewish people itself that is the target of fanatical hatred.”

Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, agreed that the source of terrorism needs to be dealt with. “The home bases of terrorists should be struck. Maybe that will provide their host countries with the motivation to police them,” Perlmutter said.


The American Jewish Congress linked the massacre to other bloody acts of historical anti-Semitism. Theodore Mann, president of AJCongress said Sunday, “We do know that the Sabbath service was to have been a festive occasion in the Istanbul synagogue. It marked the first service since the reopening of the synagogue following its reconstruction and refurbishing. It now stands as the burnt and bloody scene of an insane, cowardly attack upon a congregation whose only fault was its Jewish identity.”

Mann continued, “This conclusively belies any disclaimer by Moslem or Palestinian terrorist organizations that they are not motivated by conventional, historic, vicious anti-Semitism.

“Clearly it is not merely Israel who is the target of their attack. It is the Jews of the world against whom they aim their guns. They are motivated not simply by a resurgent nationalism but by degenerate bigotry and religious hatred.”

Just six weeks ago, an AJCongress delegation of officers visited Turkey to establish closer relations with the Turkish Jewish community, 20,000 of whom live in Istanbul. Mann said Henry Siegman, executive director of AJCongress, will go to Istanbul to attend the funeral for the victims.


American Jewish Committee president Theodore Ellenoff said the “criminal act” in Istanbul comes on the heels of the equally horrible killing of 18 innocent civilians and the wounding of scores of others in the hijacking.

“Clearly, we are facing another wave of Islamic fanaticism and violence … the international community, especially those who uphold the sanctity of each human life and support law and civility, must strengthen their resolves and join forces to assure that this criminal element is brought to justice for this murderous deed.”

In other reactions Sunday, Alleck Resnick, president of the Zionist Organization of America, called on the United Nations member-states to expel the PLO. “The ZOA demands that the PLO be finally and formally outlawed by all the world’s nations who profess to oppose terrorism,” Resnick said.

In a statement issued from Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center equated Arab fanatical hatred of Jews with that of the Nazis.

“Today’s attack on the synagogue in Turkey — a cowardly and vicious act — is reminiscent of similar outrages by history’s worst Jew-haters, the Nazis. It is further proof that to many in the Arab world, Judaism is the enemy, and that claims by Arab states that they are only anti-Zionist are sheer fantasy,” said the Center’s dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

“It is about time leaders in the West faced this reality that it is the fanatic hatred of radical, fundamentalist Moslems and their hatred of Jews which constitutes the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.”


Rabbi William Berkowitz, national president of the American Jewish Heritage Committee, sent a telegram to the United Nations Secretary General urging united world action against terrorism.

Berkowitz said in the letter, “The recurring problem of terrorism should be put on the forthcoming agenda of the General Assembly so that it be made clear that those nations which harbor terrorists within their borders and give aid and comfort to them, whether through funds or guns, will be censured and condemned. The civilized world cannot endure if it is to be at the mercy of international pirates and thugs who murder innocent civilians in the pursuit of their goals.”

Ernest Zelig, president of Bnai Zion, also compared the massacre to acts reminiscent of the Nazis. “The cold-blooded massacre of Jews gathered in an Istanbul synagogue by Arab terrorists brings back the horror of Nazi atrocities. This is yet another instance of the terrorist war against the Jewish people.”


Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, international affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, speaking about both the synagogue attack and the Pan Am hijacking, said that “both these tragedies have one thing in common: these murderers have utter contempt for the value of human life.”

Tanenbaum said that shortly after the synagogue massacre occurred, he received a telephone call from the Turkish Embassy in Washington, in which the political counselor, Candan Azer, expressed the condolences of the Turkish government and condemned forthrightly the terrorist attacks. Tanenbaum said that Azer told him, “These people are not true Moslems, they are plain killers and we are determined to bring them to justice.”

Azer read statements of solidarity with the Turkish Jewish community from Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and the Turkish Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Sukru Ellekdag, and also emphasized Turkey’s interest in upgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel. “We are next week, in fact, sending a senior diplomatic representative to Tel Aviv,” Tanenbaum said Azer told him.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund