Assaults Against Jews In Muslim Lands Raises Questions About Communi

By Amy Teibel

Associated Press
Feb 16 2009

CAIRO – Outrage at the Israel war in the Gaza Strip has turned to
intimidation and even violence against Jews living in some Muslim
lands, raising questions about the stability of these often tiny

In Turkey, Yemen and Indonesia, Muslims have shut down a synagogue,
stoned homes and used anti-Semitic slurs. Although the incidents have
been isolated, the Jewish minorities in these lands are concerned.

"Before the conflict broke out in Gaza, we were very involved in the
community," said Yusron Samba, whose family for years had operated
a synagogue in Indonesia that shut down in fear over the war. "Of
course we’re afraid following strong reaction recently from some
Islamic groups questioning our presence here."

The fury over Gaza has centered around the hundreds of Palestinian
civilians killed in the war, in which 13 Israelis also died. Israel
says it could not avoid killing civilians because Gaza militants
operate from residential areas, but critics accuse it of using
disproportionate force in its war to halt rocket attacks on its

The steep Palestinian death toll sparked protests across the Muslim
world, Europe and in Venezuela, and in some cases, the rage turned
to violence. Firebombs were hurled at synagogues in France, Sweden
and Belgium, Jews were beaten in England and Norway and an Italian
union endorsed a boycott of Jewish-owned shops. In Venezuela, vandals
shattered religious objects at a synagogue and spray-painted, "Jews,
get out," on the walls.

In Yemen, where Islamic militancy is on the rise, anti-Israel
protesters pelted several Jewish homes with rocks and smashed windows,
injuring at least one person, security officials said.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has offered to give plots of land in
the capital, San’a, free of charge to Jews who want to relocate from
the provinces, officials said. No one has taken him up on the offer,
said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because
the offer was made privately in a meeting between the president and
Jewish leaders.

As many as 250 of Yemen’s estimated 400 Jews are thought to live
outside San’a.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, Islamic
hard-liners marched to the gates of the country’s only synagogue,
chanting, "Go to hell, Israel."

"If Israel refuses to stop its attacks and oppression of the
Palestinian people, we don’t need to defend (the synagogue’s) presence
here," said Abdusshomad Buchori, who led the protest in the town of
Surabaya and has threatened to drive out its Jews. The synagogue has
been shuttered since.

In the past, Jews in Surabaya have experienced no hostility, Samba
said. But increasingly — probably because of events like the Gaza
war — a smattering of swastikas has appeared on the backs of buses,
he said.

Because of the hostile reaction, "we’re not exposing ourselves to the
media right now," he said. "We also report all protests to the police."

Several dozen Jews are thought to be living in Indonesia, descendants
of traders from Europe and Iraq.

Jewish leaders in Egypt and Syria were curt when asked about the
climate toward Jews in their countries.

"We have no troubles and we don’t talk politics," said Carmen
Weinstein, head of the Jewish Community in Cairo.

In Syria, Jewish community head Albert Komho said, "There is no fear
and there are no threats. We are not involved in any political activity
and we are functioning normally."

Jews moved to the Middle East and north Africa after Spain
expelled them in the 15th century. Jews were often restricted to
separate neighborhoods, had curtailed rights, and sometimes were
persecuted. Their condition deteriorated sharply in the first half
of the 20th century as a result of Arab nationalism and Israel’s
impending establishment. Hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled
from Arab lands around the time of Israel’s 1948 creation, and today,
only several tens of thousands remain.

Some communities are tiny, numbering about 100 in Syria and less than
a dozen in Baghdad. The biggest concentrations are in Turkey and Iran,
where Jews enjoy the stated protection of Islamic governments.

The Iranian Jewish community went out of its way to distance
itself from Israel during the Gaza fighting, issuing a statement
expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and condemning the Israeli
offensive. "The inhuman behavior of the Zionist regime contradicts
the religious teachings" of the Jewish faith, the statement said.

A group of Iranian Jews, including Jewish lawmaker Siamak Mara-Sedq,
protested against the war in front of the U.N. office in Tehran in
late December.

Turkey is Israel’s best friend in the Muslim world, but the greatest
turbulence over the Gaza war has taken place there. Earlier this
month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confronted Israeli
President Shimon Peres over the high Palestinian civilian death toll,
before storming off the stage they shared at a high-profile forum in
Davos, Switzerland.

Some of Turkey’s 23,000 Jews, however, were more alarmed by a
government-ordered minute of silence in schools for Gaza’s dead,
which they fear is a sign that the Islamic-leaning government’s
declared intolerance of anti-Semitism might waver. Erdogan’s recent
observation that the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews also rankled many
who took it to mean that Turkey considered them guests, not citizens.

Although Turkish fury was mostly directed at Israel, a few Turkish
protesters held placards with anti-Semitic messages. Turkish media
showed a photograph of three men in front of the office of a cultural
association, holding a dog and a sign saying, "Dogs are allowed,
but Jews and Armenians aren’t."

Jewish community leaders say hundreds of anti-Semitic writings have
appeared in Turkish media, and that prosecutors have failed to take
legal action.

"Everyone can criticize the policies of Israel, we respect that,"
Silvyo Ovadya, head of the Jewish community in Turkey, told the
Milliyet newspaper. "However, every speech criticizing Israel has a
tendency to turn into cries of ‘Damn Jews.’ I don’t recall such an
atmosphere previously."

Erdogan has tried to reassure Turkey’s Jews, who live in a country
of more than 70 million Muslims, that criticism of Israel does not
amount to an attack on Jews and their faith.

"There has been no anti-Semitism in the history of this country,"
Erdogan told ruling party lawmakers last week. "As a minority,
they’re our citizens. Both their security and the right to observe
their faith are under our guarantee."

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