August 30, 2010
A growing number of Turkey's Jews are leaving their homeland in favor of life in Israel, according to latest reports.
Approximately 85 members of Turkey's 17,000-strong Jewish community arrived in Israel in the first half of 2010, according to Jacque Abursi, secretary of the Organization of Turkish Immigrants in Israel.
Speaking with the local Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot, Abursi cited a significant increase in anti-Jewish sentiments as the primary reason for moving to Israel.
The Israeli government and the Jewish Agency have tried in vain in the past decades to convince Turkey's Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Officials are attributing the sudden increase to a deterioration in diplomatic relations between the two countries following the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2008. Relations reached an all-time low in the wake of a May 31 raid on a Gaza- bound Turkish aid flotilla that left nine activists dead.
Turkish officials, according to the report, are going out of their way to ease the apprehension allegedly felt by the Jewish communities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and elsewhere, by declaring their contribution to the state. But their efforts fall on deaf ears.
"The street is influenced by the political atmosphere, and we are on the verge of desperation from life here," a Jewish resident of Istanbul was quoted recently. "We love Turkey, but we will not be able to live in fear for so long."
An official Israeli source, who spoke with Xinhua on Sunday on condition of anonymity, said that more Turkish Jews are purchasing homes in Israel as a "potential shelter in case of need" over the past year.
Nissim Yochai, 54, a successful textile entrepreneur, landed in Israel with his wife and son on Friday.
"The situation is scary," Yochai told the newspaper. "I think that within five years not a single Jew will remain in Turkey."
"The (Jewish) community is in great distress, both politically and financially. Most Muslims tend not to buy at Jewish stores, mostly textile products," he added.
The Jewish Agency, one of the primary bodies tasked with maintaining contact with Jewish communities abroad and assisting fresh arrivals in Israel, downplayed Sunday's report, claiming Jews "are not being persecuted in Turkey."
According to the agency's official data, 153 Turkish-born Jews immigrated to Israel in 2009.
"The numbers do not attest to an influx of people knocking on our doors. Turkey's Jews are coming to Israel because of their traditional strong ties with the state," Michael Jankelowitz with the foreign press liaison at the Jewish Agency, told Xinhua on Sunday.
"Many of them are affluent individuals who can immigrate to any place in the world, but they prefer to come and live here," Jankelowitz added.