Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is investigating the possibility that five Turkish citizens (all apparently Jewish) cooperated with Israel during the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla attempting to flout Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Passengers attacked IDF commandos with knives, clubs and other weapons as they attempted to board, triggering a brawl in which nine Turkish Islamists died.
MIT believes the five suspects either assisted Israel Defense Force troops boarding the ship or participated in the subsequent interrogation of activists in Israel.
Despite its longstanding terrorist links, the Istanbul-based IHH, the charity that helped drive the Mavi Marmara clash, has received strong support from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Weeks before the ship sailed, Erdogan told flotilla organizers he would support their efforts to break Israel's "oppressive siege on the Gaza Strip."
IHH officials have sought to focus investigators' attention on the purported treachery of Turkish Jews. Ugur Yildirim, an IHH attorney, claimed Turkish citizens wearing IDF uniforms had been brought in to act as Israeli interpreters. IHH Deputy Chairman Huseyin Ersoz said that once the names were published, "everyone will know who the Turkish Jews are that served in the Israeli Army and killed Turkish civilians on the Mavi Marmara."
According to Rafael Sadi, spokesman for the Association of Turkish Immigrants in Israel, Turkish authorities "are trying to intimidate the Jews" and to send Israel a message that if Turkish government demands for an Israeli government apology aren't met, the Turkish Jewish community could suffer the consequences.
This follows the start of last month's trial in absentia of four former senior Israeli commanders over the ship clash. In what Israeli officials describe as a "show trial," former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi; former Navy Commander Eliezer Marom; former Air Force Commander Amos Yadlin; and former Air Force intelligence chief Avishay Levi face up to 18,000 years each in prison.
The Jewish population of the country, just over 80,000 in 1927, has fallen to no more than 20,000 today. Paris-based researcher Rifat Bali, who closely monitors Turkish Jewry, said in a recent interview that in the wake of the flotilla incident, a growing number of conspiracy theories have appeared in the Turkish media, and the nation's tiny Jewish community has come under mounting pressure to support Erdogan and to denounce Israel.
Some Jewish journalists have declared their hostility towards Israel and expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians. For his part, Erdogan alternates between vowing to "protect" Turkish Jewry on one hand and labeling Israel a "terrorist state" on the other. Given the Islamist leader's fierce hostility towards Israel, Turkish Jews who want his protection will likely think long and hard before saying positive things about Israel.