Celebrating the Jewish Heritage of Turkey’s Third-Largest City

Born in the Turkish city of Izmir, Nesim Bencoya spent most of his life in Israel, but returned to his hometown more than a decade ago to direct a project to preserve and restore its Jewish sites. Since 2018, his organization has hosted an annual, dayslong cultural festival; he hopes the city’s Jewish heritage will someday soon attract domestic and foreign tourists. David I. Klein writes:

The city, once known in Greek as Smyrna, has had a Jewish presence since antiquity, with early church documents mentioning Jews as far back as the 2nd century CE. Like elsewhere in the Ottoman empire, though, its community grew exponentially with the influx of Sephardi Jews who came after their expulsion from Spain [in 1492].

At its peak, the city was home to around 30,000 Jews and was the hometown of Jewish artists, writers, and rabbis—from the esteemed Pallache and Algazii rabbinical families, to the musician Dario Marino, to the famously false messiah, Shabbetai Tzvi, whose childhood home still stands in Izmir today.

Today, fewer than 1,300 remain. The establishment of the state of Israel, coupled with a century of economic and political upheaval, led to the immigration of the majority of Turkish Jewry.

Izmir’s history as a home for minorities has not been all rosy. At the end of the Ottoman period, the city was around half Greek, a tenth Jewish, and a tenth Armenian, while the remainder were Turkish Muslims and an assortment of foreigners. In the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922—remembered in Turkey as the Turkish War of Independence—the Greek and Armenian quarters of Izmir were burned to the ground after the Turkish army retook the city from the Greek forces, killing tens of thousands. A mass exodus of the survivors followed, but the Jewish and Muslim portions of the city were largely unharmed.

Read more at Jewish Telegraphic Agency

More about: Ladino, Turkish Jewry

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy