The world press on the Istanbul Jews

Guardian: "Theirs is one of the great anomalies of Jewish history -- a happy story."

Published November 18, 2003 10:08PM (EST)

United Kingdom, Fiachra Gibbons in the Guardian

The 17,000 or so remaining Jews of Istanbul are living proof that Jews and Muslims can coexist in harmony. It is a bond that has endured more than 1,300 years of trials and tribulations and held fast every time. Theirs is one of the great anomalies of Jewish history -- a happy story...

Happiness isn't supposed to last, but in Istanbul it has lasted more for more than five centuries. Even as the empire shrank in the late 19th century, Jews continued to pour into Constantinople fleeing persecution by Cossacks, Persians and the new, Christian Balkan nations ... They were closer to their Muslim overlords than any of the Christian populations of the empire ... One Jewish pasha almost had himself made king of Cyprus. Jewish women, too, were key players in the harem, from which the sultan sired his heirs; Jewish hawkers were Istanbul's bush telegraph. Even now, close to the grand bazaar in Istanbul, a mosque and a synagogue share the same building...

Turkey is also, of course, Israel's almost lone ally in the Muslim world. Both countries have disputed borders with Arab neighbors, both rely heavily on U.S. aid, both have poor human rights records, and both have powerful generals pulling strings or setting agendas behind the scenes.

Despite all this, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom's immediate identification of Jews with Israel when he visited the bombed synagogues yesterday is not something most Istanbul Jews will be thankful for ... Of all the trials that have befallen them over the last 500 years, none has brought more threat than the existence of Israel. It has drained away more than half of their numbers and brought Palestinian gunmen to the door of the Neve Shalom synagogue 17 years ago, at the cost of 22 lives.

Hong Kong, K. Gajendra Singh in the Asia Times

Many Turkish experts suspect that the twin bombings were a warning to Turkey, one of the few Muslim countries to have ties with Israel. This secular country has seen a surge in support for Islamic sentiments and parties, as elsewhere. Public opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq played a major role in Turkey's parliament refusing the U.S. request in March to open a second front into Iraqi Kurdistan in the north by using Turkish soil.

The blasts could be an act of revenge for the daily killings of Palestinians and the Israelis building a much-opposed wall that encroaches on Palestinian land. Such attacks would please Muslims and earn the goodwill of angry and frustrated Muslim youth all over the world, and attract many of them to their cause. It also sends a very stern warning to Turks to keep out of Iraq. Turkey had pledged to send up to 100,000 troops to Iraq, but in the face of stiff opposition from within Iraq, including from the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, the decision has been reversed.

And now, with the U.S. suddenly intent on handing more political power to the Iraqis themselves, that country will have to work out its own problems, and what form the new government takes, although it is most likely to be a dictatorship if history is anything to go by...

Recently, a senior Indian Congress party leader, Mani Shankar, revealed that he was with Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi on a peace-making mission to Tehran in 1991, and when the latter inquired from Iranian President Ali Rafsanjani who would succeed Saddam Hussein, the reply was, "Saddam Hussein".

India, B. Raman in Outlook India

While Turkish officials have been pointing the needle of suspicion at al-Qaida, some Israeli analysts seem to suspect a possible role by the Iran-backed Hizballah and/or the Iraq-based Kurdish extremist group called the Ansar al-Islam, which the U.S. has accused, with no satisfactory evidence, of having links with al-Qaida...

The Istanbul explosions are the third instance of direct targeting of Israeli or Jewish people and interests by elements linked to al-Qaida and the IIF [International Islamic Front]. In the past, while there have been reports of arrests of individual elements linked to al-Qaida in Turkey, there were no reports or even allegations of any of the terrorist organisations of Turkey having links with al-Qaida or the IIF...

Presuming that al-Qaida or the IIF carried out the twin blasts, they could not have done this without local support or involvement ... The ... section of the Turkish society from which accomplices could have come are the members of the local Chechen and Uighur communities -- Chechens from Russia as well as Arab nationals of Chechen origin. The intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been amongst the major external financiers of the Chechen terrorism in Russia and the Uighur terrorism in China.

Both Chechen and Uighur terrorists were trained in the training camps of bin Laden in Afghanistan before October 7, 2001, and many of them look up to him for inspiration. They would be inclined to co-operate with al-Qaida or the IIF despite the financial assistance received by them from Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the past.

Lebanon, David O'Byrne in the Daily Star

Sundays in the Istanbul suburb of Galata are normally quiet. However, the silence cloaking the district this Sunday was an eerie one. The soft winter sun filtered through the narrow streets and glinted off the broken glass littering the streets as residents tried to come to terms with the attack on Istanbul's main synagogue, Neve Shalom, on Buyuk Hendek Street, one of Galata's main thoroughfares.

The bomb, for which the Turkish Islamic extremist group The Great Islamic Eastern Raiders (IBDA-C) has claimed responsibility, targeted members of Istanbul's 20,000-strong Jewish community who came to the synagogue for a Saturday morning Bar Mitzvah service. Once the center of Istanbul's Jewish community and still home to five of the city's 17 synagogues, Galata has over the past 30 years come to house Turkey's electrical goods shops, as well as grimy unregulated workshops manufacturing light fittings and other electrical hardware...

"I was very lucky, I was attending a meeting at my school," said Bill Bower, a science teacher and resident of Istanbul for 15 years, whose home is on the same street as the bombed synagogue. "At the time the bomb went off I'd normally be walking my dog past the synagogue and stopping to chat with police guards outside." Ayca and Bower are typical of Galata's recent arrivals, attracted both by the beautiful buildings and the area's history as one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Europe ... "The Jewish people are our friends and even our customers," said Mehmet Sen, a devout Muslim whose shop windows were shattered by the blast from the Neve Shalom bomb. "This bombing was not the work of true Muslims. This is not Islam."

Turkey, Ilnur Cevik in the Turkish Daily News

The carnage in Istanbul on Saturday caused deep sorrow for all of us, but it hardly came as a surprise because we all knew that sooner or later Turkey would be the target of the al-Qaida terrorists.

Turkey was on the al-Qaida hit list for a long time...

But we also should not view the attack in Istanbul on Saturday only as a criminal act against a country that was on the hit list of a major terrorist organization. The political implications of this attack go well beyond that.

The West, led by the United States, see Turkey as the only country where Islam and democracy go hand in hand. They see that a country with an overwhelming majority of Muslims can establish a viable democratic system through secularism and work wonders...

Meanwhile Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida preach Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism and see Turkey as the greatest obstacle for them to create many more Taliban-type administrations in the world. Thus they attack Turkey, where the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), with moderate religious sensitivities, is in power ... They know that with the AK Party in power they can never create a Taliban-type administration in Turkey...

So the AK Party has to fight on several fronts in Turkey to prove that it has no Islamist agenda while it comes under attack from radicals both from within and without the country.

That is why we feel the U.S. administration as well as our European counterparts should start doing more to help bolster our democracy instead of pushing the AK Party into a corner. It was good to bolster the democracies of Greece, Spain and Portugal to accept them into the EU when they needed such backing while they were still under the influences of dictatorships. Why not do the same for Turkey?

United Arab Emirates, Editorial in the Gulf News

Once again the hand of terror has lashed out with the fatally flawed expectation that violence will serve in furthering political causes. No matter by whom it is done, or under what banner, the murder of innocents must be deplored in the strongest terms...

In the immediate aftermath of this horror directed at two synagogues in Istanbul, however, it is important to reflect on a statement by Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary-General. While taking a stand that attacks against civilians was unacceptable, Moussa made it clear to Israel that it was inciting terrorism through its contempt for international resolutions.

Only saner voices within Israel, that can somehow make themselves heard over the blind policies of the warmongers, can nudge the Jewish state towards positions that will enable moderates on all sides to even make a dent in the problem.

This latest carnage, in which the hand of al-Qaida is not ruled out, only serves to remind governments in the region that far more proactive measures and greater exchange of intelligence are imperative against the forces of international terrorism.

Israel, Danny Rubinstein in Haaretz

Against the backdrop of the terrorist attack in Istanbul, the terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the continued bloodletting in Iraq, surprisingly some optimistic expressions are being heard from Palestinian spokesmen. They hope a cease-fire with Israel will soon be achieved. According to associates of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, General Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, is to arrive in Ramallah today. After speaking with Arafat and with newly elected prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), he will meet with senior Israeli officials, and he may go to Gaza for talks with the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

His visit is a clear sign that in Egypt they believe that conditions have been created that make it possible to reach a new hudna (cease-fire). The Egyptians are in regular contact with Palestinian delegates, including the heads of Hamas, and they regularly consult with American diplomats -- so it is very possible that a serious attempt will be made...

Senior PA officials said two days ago that what adds to a certain sense of optimism on the Palestinian side are the things they are hearing about what is being done on the Israeli side. To the Palestinians it seems that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now being subjected to heavy internal pressure to take a more flexible stance. The pressure was recently expressed in incidents like the warnings of the four former heads of the Shin Bet security services, the criticism voiced by the chief of staff, and the great impression made on the world by the Geneva Accords and the "The People's Voice."

Can all this lead to anything? "Maybe only in the short term; in the coming weeks and months," says Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan al Hatib, who is afraid that the story of the short-lived government of Mahmoud Abbas is repeating itself; a hudna and a certain reduction in violence, a few almost meaningless Israeli gestures -- and after a short time a return to the routine of bloodshed.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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