‘The opposition to Israel’s actions against Palestinians has turned into an unconscious attack on all Israelis and Jews’

Since the Hamas attack on Israel in early October and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza, the Jews living in the northern part of Cyprus are increasingly becoming a target, particularly by nationalist circles.

The aggression often involves the disclosure of identities and in some cases photographs of Jews living among the Turkish Cypriot community on social media. The posts are widely circulated.

Most recently, a group led by Yasemi Ozturk, a member of the Turkish Cypriot assembly from the majority coalition partner right-wing National Unity Party (UBP), staged a demonstration in front of a Jewish centre, Chabad, in Kyrenia, calling it “a concrete step towards the building of a Zionist structure in [the northern part of] Cyprus”. Back in November, the Chabad building was sealed off by local authorities pressured by the same nationalist group on the grounds that it didn’t have the necessary documentation.

Late last month, five business organisations including the Cyprus Turkish Businesspeople Association, in a statement that condemned Israel’s attack on Gaza and called for a ceasefire, said: “The Jewish colony settled in our country should be controlled and the necessary measures should be taken regarding their residency here.”

“There is a very dangerous and concerning trend,” says Middle East expert professor Nur Koprulu. “Incriminating individual Jews or the whole Jewish community is antisemitism, hate speech and discrimination… What we cannot tell apart here is the distinction between the Jewish community and the Israeli state… And the stereotypes about Jews that are still very present in the society, are revived with negative developments such as war.”

She underlines that the trauma of war and killing of innocent people on both sides is also playing a big role worldwide which manifests itself at times as antisemitism and at times as Islamophobia.

feature esra image from one of the newspapers accused of antisemitism

Image from one of the newspapers accused of antisemitism

Property ownership

The aggression against Jews mainly focuses on their land and property ownership amid claims that they want to establish an Israeli state in northern Cyprus as part of the “Great Israel Project”.

Last month, a Turkish Cypriot nationalist journalist disclosed on social media the names of hundreds of real estate development companies owned by Jews along with their identities as well as their Turkish Cypriot partners under the heading “The Zionists among us.” The Jewish people identified in the post – also widely circulated in Turkey – were mostly the citizens of the unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state, which gives them the right to reside, buy property, and work freely in the north.

The antisemitic sentiment was exacerbated by a number of mainland Turkish media outlets that picked up on the post and did their own reports on the issue.

Sabah, which is among one of the biggest dailies in Turkey, claimed that there are 35,000 Jews living in northern Cyprus, who have bought 25,000 donums of land. The daily added that there are some 2,000 construction companies owned by Jews, which are building properties and selling only to Jews in the north.

“Israel is conquering TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus],” said Sabah.

Another Turkish daily, the Islamist Milli Gazete, claimed that “Zionists are amassing land in Cyprus, especially in areas that face Tel Aviv” and said an “unarmed invasion” is taking place.

International Relations associate professor Yonca Ozdemir warns against this mentality. “If there is any concern about the environmental, social or any other consequence of land sales then they should be looking at all sales,” she says. “It shouldn’t matter who is buying the land. Otherwise, this is antisemitism.”

“Who will be responsible of the horrific consequences of making targets of Jews, who have been living and investing in the northern part of Cyprus for decades?” asked journalist Pinar Barut at the online Ozgur Gazete newspaper. “The opposition to Israel’s actions against Palestinians has turned into an unconscious attack to all Israelis and Jews… Does this not bother the government and the law enforcement?”

The commotion about Jewish land ownership led a right-wing Turkish politician to ask Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan about “allegations that tens of thousands of donums of land in the north had been purchased by middlemen connected to Israel” in the Turkish parliament.

Fidan downplayed the Israeli property ownership but said that the land purchases by foreigners are being monitored since he was the chief of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT.

“We are conveying our concerns to the [Turkish] Cypriot authorities,” Fidan said.

Soon after Fidan’s statements, the department responsible for the interior affairs announced last week that it is preparing legal amendments that will bring limitations on property sales to foreigners.

“It is important to protect the land in the TRNC and not give it over to foreigners,” said Fikri Ataoglu, who is responsible for the tourism dossier in the north. “I don’t want TRNC land to be sold to anyone other than Turks.”

The amendments will not affect foreigners, who have been granted Turkish Cypriot citizenship.

“The territories of TRNC…were taken by guns,” wrote journalist Serhat Incirli in the daily Yeniduzen, after the announcement. “And now foreigners are buying these lands. The fuss is especially about some Israeli individuals or companies… Is there a problem if the looted territories are bought by Turkish companies rather than Israeli ones? No… We are being racist… Did we not steal the land over which we are fighting, being antisemitic, disgracing ourselves? The essence of the issue is very simple: ‘Fascists Turks cannot stomach that the stolen land is now being sold to some Israeli companies’.”

There has been a sharp increase in construction and property sales in northern Cyprus in recent years. Some 4,600 foreigners were given permission to buy properties in the first ten months of 2023. However, far more properties are being bought in the north by foreigners who have been granted Turkish Cypriot citizenships; by lawyers on behalf of foreigners; or Turkish Cypriot companies with “silent foreign partners” to avoid limitations imposed on foreigners. Official records do not show such transactions and estimates are that about 50 per cent of transactions are not recorded.

Is the north harbouring terrorism?

Meanwhile, Last Sunday, Israel said that it was “troubled” by use of the northern part of Cyprus “both for terrorism objectives and as an operational and transit area”. The statement described the north “as an area of activity and transit to attack Israeli and Jewish targets. [This] constitutes a disturbing issue.”

The statement came after Israel helped Republic of Cyprus foil an Iranian-ordered attack against Israelis and Jews on the island and captured two Iranian nationals. They were believed to have come to the Republic from the north.

Turkish Cypriot officials were quick to brush off Israel’s statement, with the speaker of the assembly Zorlu Tore labelling it as an “attempt to conceal the genocide it is committing in Palestine”.