Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that criticism of Israel's offensive in Gaza should not be regarded as anti-Semitism. Last week, Erdogan publicly scolded Israel's president Shimon Peres over casualties among Palestinian civilians and walked off the stage at a panel debate of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Many Turks hailed him as a hero.
However, the Turkish government, which has been an important Israeli ally in the Muslim world, is campaigning hard to reassure its Jewish citizens that they are safe. "There has been no anti-Semitism in the history of this country," Erdogan told lawmakers of his party. "As a minority, they are our citizens. Both their security and the right to observe their faith are under our guarantee."
There are 23,000 Jews in the predominantly Muslim country of around 80 million. Most live in Istanbul, and many have prominent roles in banking and education. Their ancestors arrived five centuries ago, and a recent comment by the prime minister that the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews bothers some today who feel they are viewed as guests, not citizens.
In a statement, the Jewish community welcomed statements by Erdogan and other Turkish officials and noted a decrease since the Gaza ceasefire on 18 January of "anti-Semitic manifestations" during protests against Israel. "Numerous sensible and impartial journalists and intellectuals have accentuated that this is not a war of religions. At present there are unfortunately several TV programs with messages embedded with harshly anti-Semitic rhetoric," the statement pointed out.