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Cablegate: Chief Rabbi Praises Got, but Anti-Semitism A

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0573 3221220
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171220Z NOV 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8594
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS ISTANBUL 000573

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM AA TU OSCE
SUBJECT: CHIEF RABBI PRAISES GOT, BUT ANTI-SEMITISM A
GROWING CONCERN

1. Summary and Comment: During a November 3 farewell call
by the Ambassador on Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and the
leadership of the Jewish Community, Haleva expounded on the
good relations maintained between the Jewish community and
the Government of Turkey (GOT) on national and local levels,
but also lamented a discernible rise of anti-Semitism among
the Turkish people. He noted that programs designed to
introduce Muslim clerics and theologians to Judaism have been
successful at improving impressions of Jews and one
participant will become the Mufti of Istanbul. End Summary.

Continued Positive Relations with the GOT
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. Citing a history of cooperation with the state and state
officials, Rabbi Haleva said that relations have improved to
an unprecedented level under the AKP government. "When there
is an ear that listens to you," he said, "you feel filled
with hope." He compared the Jewish community's relationship
with the government to that of a marriage in which arguments
occur but in which the common sentiment is positive. In
fact, Jewish community president Sylvio Ovadya said that two
years ago the Jewish community opened a synagogue in the
Istanbul suburb of Kemerburgaz. Unlike the experience of
Christians and churches in Turkey, Ovadya said generally it
is not difficult to open a new synagogue. "We simply asked
the kaymakan (district governor) and he provided permission."

3. Ovadya said that the Jewish community has gained
importance in Turkey as more Turkish politicians meet with
members of the "Jewish lobby" during their visits to the
United States. He also suggested that the AKP may seek
closer relationships with minority communities within Turkey
to avoid criticism due to their overarching Islamic identity.
Ovadya explained that the Jewish community has close
relations with the Fetullah Gulen group in Istanbul, as well
as with other Islamic groups that are much more open to
dialogue than they were 20 years ago. Ovadya attributed this
openness in part to the AKP's willingness to communicate with
other religious populations. Rabbi Haleva emphasized that
"we couldn't have anticipated such good relations" with the
ruling party.

Less Favorable Relations with Turkish People
--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. Rabbi Haleva contended that in the Ottoman Empire,
minorities had even more rights than Muslim Ottoman citizens,
but "it would be the end of the world" if the Turkish public
perceived such a situation today. "Now we are like acrobats,
keeping a balance to keep everyone happy." Noting that
anti-Semitism continues to be widespread in Turkey, he said
he perceived a troubling increase in the past few years.

5. According to Rabbi Haleva, the misrepresentation of the
Arab-Israeli conflict causes more damage to the Jewish
community and the Muslim world than any other concern.
"Phrasing the conflict as a religious conflict forces
individuals to take sides and stains history in a very
significant way." Rabbi Haleva said that such a skewed
representation of the situation has heightened his
community's struggle with anti-Semitism in Turkey.

6. Vice president of the Jewish community Sami Herman
emphasized that while the community has good relationships
with the upper levels of political and religious society, the
Turkish people demonstrate that they are more anti-Semitic
than ever before. The Ambassador suggested that the Jewish
community should take advantage of the opportunity presented
by a group of scholars invited by the Diyanet for a
reciprocal visit from the United States in the coming year.
The Ambassador noted that an arranged conversation with the
community and the group could go far.

7. Rabbi Haleva related his experience in leading 18
theology professors to the Israel ten years ago in a program
funded by the Turkish government. All of the participants
now have favorable impressions of Jews, and one of them will
be the next Mufti of Istanbul.
WIENER

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