In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.
“For generations in Istanbul, we have lived together with love, tolerance, fraternity and without discrimination, and we are extremely determined to continue living this way,” Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said before lighting a candle with Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva at Neve Shalom Synagogue on January 27. Neve Shalom was one of two temples targeted in a 2003 bomb attack in Istanbul that was blamed on al Qaeda. Twenty-one Muslims and six Jews were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.
Turkish Jews, whose numbers have dwindled to about 18,000 in a country of almost 74 million Muslims, have in recent years again felt under threat as relations between Israel and Turkey, each other’s closest allies in the Middle East until recently, have deteriorated.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim, castigated the Israeli government in early 2009 for its incursion into the Gaza Strip. Relations hit a nadir on May 31, when nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists bringing aid to Gaza were killed by Israeli commandoes during a raid of their ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters.