The key to restoring peace between Israel and Turkey, says political analyst Mark Meirowitz, lies more in the past than the future.
“Most Jews are not aware of the historical role of Turkey in rescuing Jews from the Inquisition and the Holocaust. I have made it my mission to bring these historical stories to the attention of Turks and Jews so that it helps build a foundation for excellent relations in the future,” said Meirowitz.
Meirowitz — who lives in Manhattan but spends his summers in Elberon — spoke to NJJN about recent developments in Turkish-Israel relations and his mission to bridge the gap between Jews and Turks. An attorney who holds a doctorate in politics and teaches politics, history, and English at a number of colleges in New York, Meirowitz has written articles on Turkish foreign policy and has served as a panelist on U.S.-Turkey relations in conferences in Turkey and Washington, DC.
This summer he was granted a fellowship from State University of New York to teach English conversation to Turkish professors at Istanbul Technical University, where he lived in a campus guest house.
Meirowitz also lectures about his experiences in Turkey at synagogues in New York and New Jersey, including, most recently, at Congregation Brothers of Israel in Elberon, where he is a member, and at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, where he is men’s club president.
Meirowitz told NJJN he sees more similarities than differences between Israelis and Turks, including similar foods, cultures, and national stories that have affected world history and events. There are about 20,000 Jews remaining in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul and Izmir. In the office building of the Jewish weekly newspaper, Salom, a bookstore markets siddurim and Torah texts translated from Hebrew to Turkish and even a Turkish-Hebrew dictionary, he said.
He has met with Jewish community leaders in Turkey during numerous visits there.
Among his most poignant experiences in Turkey was a chance encounter with 92-year-old Robert Lazare Rousso, one of many Turkish Jews reportedly rescued from the Gestapo in Paris by Turkish Ambassador Behiç Erkin. He visited Lazare Rousso with the grandson of the Turkish consul who rescued him. “I hugged and kissed Mr. Lazare Rousso when I heard his story. He was emaciated and close to death when he was rescued,” Meirowitz said.
The story of the rescue of Jews by Turkish consuls is captured in the documentary film Desperate Hours. “My parents both survived internment at Auschwitz, so to hear a story like this hits me very hard. When my mother saw the film, she expressed regret for not being born a Turkish Jew, because otherwise she would have been rescued,” said Meirowitz, whose mother was born in Vienna.
‘Resolve this issue’
Israeli-Turkish relations imploded on Sept. 2 after the leak of the United Nations’ Palmer Report on last year’s Mavi Marmara flotilla debacle, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish passengers. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expelled Israel’s ambassador, Gabby Levy, and suspended military ties with Israel. Turkey had demanded that Israel apologize for the flotilla incident, pay compensation, and lift the embargo on Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to do so.
“Negotiations hit a brick wall,” Meirowitz said. “What is needed now is for President Obama to put the two prime ministers together with him in a room and not let either of them leave until they resolve this issue. World peace and stability require that the two parties move on. There are too many challenges that need to be dealt with, including the nuclear threat from Iran. It is in no one’s interest to have this crisis prolonged.”
Personal interactions with Turks are critical now more than ever, said Meirowitz.
“To go all the way across the world to learn about a different society is an eye-opening experience, culturally, politically and personally. It made me very aware of a large part of the world we should be learning more about, and I found the Turks to be extremely warm and hospitable people. It is my hope in the Jewish New Year we will see peace and stability in the entire Middle East region.”