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Monday, February 16, 2009

Jews in Arab lands fearful

From AP:
CAIRO (AP) — 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 communities.

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 territory.

The steep Palestinian death toll sparked protests across the Muslim world, Europe and in Venezuela, and in some cases, the rage turned to violence. ...

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.

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.

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. ...

Some of Turkey's 23,000 Jews were 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."