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Turkish Governor Threatens To Turn Synagogue Into Museum

“Hatred and anti-Semitism have seized the state,” says opposition lawmaker

Yair Rosenberg
November 24, 2014
Ankara at sunset (Shutterstock)
Ankara at sunset (Shutterstock)

The governor of the Turkish province of Edirne has threatened to turn a historic synagogue into a museum, the Hurriyet Daily News reports. “While those bandits blow winds of war inside al-Aqsa and slay Muslims, we build their synagogues,” said Dursun Şahin, making reference to recent tensions in Jerusalem, and implicating Turkey’s Jewish population in the blame for them.

“I say this with a huge hatred inside me,” he continued. “We clean their graveyards, send their projects to boards. But the synagogue here will be registered only as a museum, and there will be no exhibitions inside it.” The synagogue, which dates back to 1907, is in the process of being restored by the government, and Jewish residents were planning to host sermons and wedding ceremonies there.

Şahin’s bigoted diatribe was rebuffed by officials in charge of the restoration project, as was his attempt to collectively punish local Jews for the alleged actions of others in Israel. “All decisions regarding the functions of the buildings owned by the Directorate General of Foundations are taken by the directorate,” the Foundations Director General Adnan Ertem told a local news agency. “All visitors should be able easily pray there, which is the biggest synagogue in Europe. That is our intention.”

In a statement, one opposition lawmaker called for Şahin to resign. “If Şahin does not resign to save the dignity of his post and Turkey’s honor, he should be removed from his post immediately,” said Aykan Erdemir of the Republican People’s Party, calling it “shameful for a public official to make such remarks.”

Erdemir added bluntly that “hatred and anti-Semitism have seized the state,” a reference to the fact that Şahin’s threat marks the latest incident in a long string of state-sanctioned anti-Semitic outbursts in Turkey. In July, Melih Gökçek, the mayor on Ankara, tweeted pro-Hitler sentiments and called for the shuttering of the Israeli embassy, which he deemed “100 times more murderous than Hitler.” Around the same time, as Turkey scholar Michael Koplow reported, Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the IHH–the humanitarian organization that organized the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza and has since been linked to al Qaeda–“warned Jewish tourists … not to show their faces in Turkey and threatened Turkish Jews that they would pay dearly for Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

One reporter for Yeni Akit wrote an open letter to Turkey’s chief rabbi demanding that he and the country’s Jews apologize for Israel’s actions. Another writer in Daily Sabah, the English language outlet aligned with the country’s ruling party, opined that Jews around the world needed to make a “historic gesture” and denounce Israel publicly.

In light of this fevered atmosphere fostered by elected officials and other prominent voices in Turkey, it seems unlikely Şahin will be resigning any time soon for his anti-Jewish sentiments.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.