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Council of Europe Asks Turkey to Fight Homegrown Anti-semitism

February 22, 2005
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A European report on racism and intolerance in Turkey is calling for greater efforts to combat anti-Semitism in the country. The report, released last week, was issued by the Council of Europe, a body that focuses on democratization and human rights issues. Based in Strasbourg, France, the organization, which has 46 countries as members, is distinct from the more influential European Union.

Prepared by the council’s European Commission on Racism and Intolerance, the report covers a number of human rights and religious freedom issues in Turkey. While praising some of the reforms the Turkish government has made in recent years as part of its bid to become a member of the European Union, the report suggests that anti-Semitism is an area about which there still is cause for concern.

While noting that Turkey’s 25,000-member Jewish community has enjoyed a generally peaceful existence, the document says, “In the opinion of representatives of the Jewish community, the climate has suddenly changed, mainly in the wake of international terrorist attacks in November 2003, targets of which included two synagogues in Istanbul.

“There is now a feeling of insecurity in the Jewish community because of these and other incidents, such as physical assaults on individuals purely because they are Jewish, at least on of which proved fatal. Antisemitic propaganda continues to appear in certain sections of the media and it is apparently not unusual to come across sweeping statements in the press in which Turkey’s Jewish community is equated with the policies of the state of Israel.”

While noting that the Turkish authorities have been working closely with the Jewish community to improve security at its facilities, the report criticized the government for not using legal measures consistently to prosecute those inciting anti-Semitism and those making public anti-Semitic comments.

In its official response to the report, the Turkish government said the document creates a “false impression” that there is public animosity against the Jewish community, citing the public and official support that the Jewish community received after the 2003 synagogue bombings. Furthermore, the report “fails to appreciate an already growing sensitivity in the Turkish judiciary against antisemitist [sic] statements,” the Turkish government said.

Jewish leaders said the question of anti-Semitic writing in the Turkish press is one that has them especially concerned. “We are very worried by the increase in anti-Semitic articles,” said a senior community official, who asked not to be named. “There has definitely been an increase in the last few months, and that is a very worrying trend.”

While Turkey’s Islamist press long has been a consistent source of anti-Semitic articles, such as ones claiming that Jews are buying up land in Turkey in order to allow Israel to control the country’s resources, in recent months there have been a growing number of similar articles in the country’s nationalist newspapers and occasionally in the mainstream press, the leader said.

In the current environment, where a Turkish translation of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is a bestseller, even the council’s report is fodder for some of the press, the official said.

“The fact that the report is out, and in the report it says that there is anti-Semitism in Turkey, this in itself is creating anti-Semitic articles in the part of the press that is always ready to attack us Jews. It’s a dilemma for the community,” the leader said.

The Turkish government is pressing charges against a columnist from an Islamist paper who wrote a column last August praising Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews. It is pressing charges as well against the son of one of the 2003 synagogue bombers, who said in an interview that he wasn’t sorry about the deaths of the Jewish victims of the attacks.

Among its several recommendations, the report suggests the Turkish government set up a body to monitor and combat racism and intolerance in the country and to increase the number of prosecutions of authors of anti-Semitic material. It also calls upon the government to launch a national public-awareness raising campaign against racism and intolerance.

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