Turkish court charges Vice News reporters with terrorism links

A Turkish court on Monday formally charged three employees of Vice News with having links to a terrorist organization, the online news channel said, days after they were detained while reporting from the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Security sources and local media identified the three as two British reporters and their translator. Their arrest is likely to intensify concerns about press freedom as Ankara takes on a bigger role in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and cracks down on Kurdish militants at home.

“Vice News condemns in the strongest possible terms the Turkish government's attempts to silence our reporters who have been providing vital coverage from the region,” Kevin Sutcliffe, Vice's head of news programing for Europe, said in a statement.

“We continue to work with all relevant authorities to expedite the safe release of our three colleagues and friends.”

Security sources and local media said last week that Britons Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendelbury and their translator were detained in Diyarbakir where they were filming clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants.

The banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has fought a three-decade insurgency for greater Kurdish autonomy, in which some 40,000 people have been killed. Turkey and the United States consider the group a terrorist organization.

In a statement, the Diyarbakir chief prosecutor said: “Although the suspects were not involved in the terrorist organization's hierarchy, it was decided that they were arrested for helping the organization willingly”. The chief prosecutor did not name the PKK outright.

Vice News, which has won a large following among younger viewers for its irreverent reportage and documentaries from global trouble spots, has declined to identify the journalists or the translator.

Security sources told Reuters the three were in close contact with the PKK. On his Twitter feed last week, Hanrahan posted photos which he said had been taken in an area of the southeast under the control of the PKK's youth arm.

The shaky peace process between Ankara and the PKK begun by President Tayyip Erdogan in 2012 has fallen apart over the last month as the government resumed air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq and Kurdish insurgents hit police and military targets.

Critics worry that press freedom will be one casualty of the fighting. Turkey languishes near the bottom of international press freedom tables. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has said harassment of the press violates its human rights criteria.

It is time for Israel and Turkey to remember their deep common history

I am a Turkish Muslim and every time I have a conversation with an Israeli friend, they keep asking me why the relations between Israel and Turkey have reached such a nadir, why Turkey seemingly has an antagonistic stance against Israel.

First of all, Turkey's being totally against Israel is out of question. Turkey and Israel are two countries who have deep-rooted, solid relations, and there will be no change in that. Although the language in the political arena may give a different impression, the bond between the Turkish and Israeli public remains unshaken. Yes, there has been a tension between Turkey and Israel for the last couple of years; however this is a temporary thing. And the Turkish public has never ceased to care for Israelis.

The Mavi Marmara episode was an unwanted incident and I do not believe that no one ever presumed that things would end the way they did. I am confident that if both sides had known the result ahead of time, they would have striven to handle things in an entirely different manner. The Israeli public has to decide how they want to compensate, but we consider Israel as a friendly country in any event and we want to overcome this regrettable incident in the soonest time.

Turkey and Israel share common features that deepens their alliance. Both states are officially secular while their people are predominantly religious. Since secularism is both a precaution and a blessing against hypocrisy, in both countries people who chose to be religious follow their free will and no one can compel anyone to any religion. That is to say, there is a firm stance against bigotry and in both countries people are respected and embraced regardless of their religion. And in both, just like believers can live by their faith, non-believers live as they choose as well.

Israel and Turkey being secular prevents coercion, compulsion in the name of religion, and does not give ground for hypocrisy. Their interpretation of secularism should not be confused with atheism; rather, it guarantees the freedom of the public to practice their religion as they see fit. In both Israel and Turkey, democratic awareness and democratic values are more firmly rooted than any other country in the region. There is no room or tolerance for dictatorship or despotic regimes.

Another commonality between the people of Turkey and Israel is that they do not have an overweening ambition to live a materialistic life in luxury. Both have known hardship and they have both been nurtured from their spirituality and conviction. They have been living under fire in a region that has never known stability and that has always been in the focus of the world with their conflicts.

As the Turkish nation, we want nothing more then the continuance of Israel’s existence in peace and tranquility. We are happy to see its being prosperous and all its citizens living in comfort and safety. As Turkish people, the settling of the Jews in the region, their residing in those lands and their being free is something that we are not uncomfortable about. On the contrary; when various public figures in the Middle East make threatening and, quite frankly, genocidal pronouncements against the Israeli state and its citizens, it disturbs us greatly and we would never let something like that happen.

Just like we came to the aid of our Jewish brothers and sisters and sailed them in private ships to Turkey in 1492 during the period of the Spanish Inquisition and welcomed them in our country, we will be ready to run to their help whenever they are in need. When Hitler targeted the Jews during the Nazis genocidal “Final Solution”, we struggled with all our might to protect them. We have lived in a friendly and brotherly manner together with our Jewish brothers. We have always provided good means for them, we have always wanted them to live in ease and comfort and that will always be the case as well. This is because such an attitude is the requisite of the morality that Islam requires. The Muslim Turks’ attitude for centuries has demonstrated that Turks and Jews have continued to help each other in times of great crises and it will continue to be this way, no matter what happens.

When we go a back a little further in history, this is even more evident that Jews and Muslims not only coexisted but also supported each other. After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and took control of the city, they expelled Jews from the city forbidding them to live there. When Rome adopted Christianity, they maintained a strict ban on Jews coming near Jerusalem after 325 A.D. Jews were only allowed to enter once a year to pray on Tisha B'Av. The ban on Jews entering the city remained in force until the Muslim Caliph Umar took control of the city. Muslims then welcomed the Jews to come back to Jerusalem for the first time in about 600 years. During the Abbasid Caliphate, Muslims continued to welcome Jews to settle in the city and this situation continued until the city was invaded by the Crusaders in 1099. Another point to be emphasized is that Muslims and Jews fought side-by-side to defend the city against the invading Crusaders. After the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, and put a good many of the inhabitants to the sword -both Jewish and Muslim alike- Jews were once again prohibited to enter Jerusalem. This prohibition continued till the Muslim leader Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, known better as Saladin, finally liberated the city in 1187 from the Crusaders and invited the Jews to return to Jerusalem with no restrictions and allowed them to take up residence.

The existence of Turkey is a safeguard for Israel. We will be the first ones to stand up for any kind of threat that might be aimed at Israel. There will never be a formation in Turkey that would aim to harm the Jewish people. Just as it could be in any society, there may be one or two rare extreme radical people and those individuals might come up with some unreasonable or irrational opinions. But radical thought can never find a broad foundation in Turkey.
What matters is that we are not a state in search of hostility. From time to time, we might have problems, as is inevitable between sovereign nation-states, but there will never be a complete termination of our friendship.

We both want peace, friendship, democracy, human rights, goodness, compassion and love to be dominant in the region and we want to live a beautiful life together. Turkey and Israel working in unison can make the entire region faithful, prosperous and put an end to terror, radicalism and anarchy. Israel and Turkey will continue with their alliance as strong as steel and bring peace, love and tranquility to the region.

Trial in absentia of Israeli commanders in Mavi Marmara raid

A Turkish court began a trial in absentia for four Israeli military commanders responsible for the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship.

The court case against former Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as former navy Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom, ex-military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and former air force Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi, opened on Nov. 6 in Istanbul. The charges reportedly include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, causing bodily harm, deprivation of freedom, plundering, damage to property and illegal confiscation of property.

The Israelis could be sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

Some 490 people who were aboard the ship during the raid, including activists and journalists, are scheduled to testify. The trial reportedly will be officially recorded by television cameras, although not immediately broadcast.

Nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, on May 31, 2010, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal. The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have severed diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Turkish lawyer: Israel offered to pay Marmara victims $6 million

Israel offered to pay $6 million to victims of the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, a Turkish lawyer said.

Ramazan Ariturk, one of the lawyers representing 465 victims and victims’ relatives, told Reuters on Thursday that the Israeli government had made a proposal to him through an intermediary foreign ambassador in Ankara just over a month ago. He said the money would have been paid to a Jewish foundation in Turkey for distribution, and been followed by an Israeli government statement of “regret” for the raid.

Ariturk said he told the unnamed ambassador that the offer was not appropriate. The Turkish Foreign Ministry agreed with his decision, saying Israel should have contacted it directly, he told Reuters.

A senior Israeli official who declined to be named said that Israel, which indicated last year that it was prepared to indemnify victims without accepting blame, had not renewed its offer, according to Reuters.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry could not be reached by the news agency for immediate comment. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also declined to comment.

Israeli commandos boarded the Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Israel following the incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.

Turkey, meanwhile, is preparing to charge four senior Israeli military officials responsible for the raid on charges of ordering their soldiers to intentionally kill, wound and abduct, the Turkish daily Sabah reported Wednesday. The military leaders are also charged with encouraging torture and the looting of personal belongings.

Chasing parental boredom while catching some foreign films

I was in seventh grade when my dad took me to see a Turkish movie exploring the lives of five prisoners given a week’s home leave in the aftermath of a coup d’etat.

Why did he take a kid to see the movie “Yol”? To teach me a valuable lesson about suffering? To expand my world-view beyond Brandeis Hillel Day School and ballet class and working weekends at my mom’s coffee shop? No. My dad wanted to see the movie.

And if I wanted to hang out with my dad, that was the deal. Yol.

Not only did I see that movie — which consisted mainly of tight shots of tortured souls walking up hills into wind — but also a multitude of other age-inappropriate films, thanks to my Pops and his bi-weekly Sunday visits during which he dragged me to everything from documentaries about coal mining and obscure folk singers to lengthy Swedish films. At the time, I really cared more about Swedish fish.

Now that I am a parent, I realize that my dad was onto something, and I’m looking for ways to emulate him.

My dad’s concept was to choose an activity that he loved and bring me along, thus he would never be bored or resentful that he was doing something lame like hanging out watching me try on clothes at Wet Seal. If he could convince me to share his love of art house films, he could kill two birds with one long, boring cinematic achievement: He could spend time with his kid while enjoying a favorite pastime.

You might think, wow, what a selfish dude.

Maybe his daughter was exposed to things that were adult and therefore disturbing. Or maybe his daughter was bored. Or maybe he should have sucked it up and gone to the mall, or perhaps to see “Footloose,” which involves teens in perhaps emotional prisons, but not actual prisoners.

To that I say, yes, it was uncomfortable watching some of the films, and confounding at times. On the other hand, I loved hanging out with my dad on Sundays, and I didn’t really care what movie we saw. Maybe, to his credit, because he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, he exuded a certain happiness and calm. And kids read that kind of vibe. So, I never got the feeling my dad didn’t want to hang out with me.

There should be a word for that in Turkish.

As the mother of a 2-year-old, I thought it was a stroke of genius when I saw a father at a skateboard park with his toddler. This little girl was an incredible skateboarder, shredding, as one might say, on a giant half-pipe. When I spoke to the dad while marveling at his girl, he told me they go there four afternoons a week. This guy, I realized, had found his Yol, an activity that wouldn’t suck the life out of him, something that might somehow enrich his daughter’s life (while maybe jacking up her shins or teeth) and one that he could do without too much personal sacrifice. Sure, this guy could have sat through an endless series of tea parties, but he would have hated that, so he taught his daughter to skate and now he has a skate partner for life. Or at least until she is old enough to decide whether to resent him.

So I continue searching for my Yol.

Loving my child is no problem. However, filling toy dumpsters with torn-up bits of paper towel before dumping them over into a plastic garbage truck is more depressing than an Ingmar Bergman film festival (yes, my dad took me to one, so I know). At this point, the things my boy likes to do — play with trucks, fill pails with sand and water to make sand castles, your basic hide-and-seek — well, those are wrenchingly, painfully dull.

Turns out, the word Yol is actually Turkish for “the way,” and I need to find mine. Hopefully, it won’t be headed uphill into the wind.

Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion

Turkey’s Jews are pleased as can be that for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at the Eurovision song contest.

But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment – at least not the Jewish part.

“We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, anti-Semitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA.

Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew.

“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the “Aksam” news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

Prior to his appearance on “Aksam,” radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.

The way in which the anchor framed her question in the interview probably didn’t put him at ease.

“People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.”

The intimation that the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., which makes the Eurovision selection, would kowtow to pro-Israel groups seems a little bizarre with Turkey’s moderate Islamist government doing its best to distance itself from Israel. One of the string of crises that fueled the current tensions between the two countries, in fact, was the broadcast in 2010 on state-run TV of a drama series that portrayed Israelis as harvesting organs from Iraqis.

It is true that Bonomo’s selection for the contest, which is being held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan, has sparked a glint of hope among Turkey’s 20,000 Jews, who have watched anxiously as their country’s historically strong relations with Israel have deteriorated.

“It is the first time in history that a talented young Turkish Jewish singer will represent Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest,” Derya Agis, a scholar of Turkish Jewish culture and history at Brandeis University, wrote on her Facebook page. “Turkey will show the importance of diversity in Europe where anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have been problems since centuries.”

Or, put a little less academically by Denise Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community: “A Jewish boy is going to represent Turkey!” she told JTA. “We’re all very proud.”

Saporta downplayed the attacks on Bonomo, saying they were typical of political factions that deride minorities in general and are not representative of Turks.

“This always happens with ‘firsts,’ ” she said. “If he were anything other than a Sunni Muslim male – a woman, even – these media would attack.”

Going by his Facebook fan page, Bonomo has a solid following among Turks of all stripes. The video of the “Aksam” interview drew hundreds of comments in support.  One fan, Osman Kural, denounced the “radical, right wing agitprop” and said it “in no way represents all of the country.”

Bonomo, 24, oozes hip, from his retro caps and his blazer over T-shirt look. His Twitter biography describes him as “musician/illustrator/writer/drunk/bast'E'rd. (- Chill dude.).” (His facility with English is another factor riling Turkish ultranationalists.)

EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style” with the Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles listed by the site as his influences. His vocals incorporate the rising and falling quartertones typical of his country’s music, and are set against throbbing drums and guitar and oud riffs.

Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.

Release of anti-Israel film delayed in Germany

An anti-Israel Turkish movie filmed in part aboard the intercepted flotilla ship the Marmara will not open in Germany as scheduled.

Germany’s movie-ratings agency announced Tuesday that it would not allow “Valley of the Wolves-Palestine” to open Thursday, saying it had not had time to review the film.

The film had been scheduled to open on International Holocaust Day. More than 3 million ethnic Turks live in Germany, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It is scheduled to be released Friday in more than 100 countries, including Turkey.

“Valley of the Wolves-Palestine,” the third film in a series, follows a fictitious hit squad as it travels to Israel to assassinate the Israeli military officers responsible for the Marmara operation.

It is a spinoff of a Turkish television show that often demonizes Israel and Jews, and has contributed to the rift in Israeli-Turkish relations. A previous film in the series, “Valley of the Wolves-Iraq,” showed Israeli doctors harvesting the organs of Iraqis and sending them to Israel for transplant.

Suspicious powder delivered to embassy in Tel Aviv

An envelope containing an unknown white powder was delivered to the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The envelope, which arrived Tuesday, came a day after a similar envelope was delivered to the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, and a week after envelopes containing white powder arrived at the embassies of the United States, Spain and Sweden in the same city.

The powder was tested in each case and is not believed to be a danger, according to reports.