Penso: "We need to find the actual perpetrators of the attacks on the Jewish Cemetery"

Penso: "We need to find the actual perpetrators of the attacks on the Jewish Cemetery"
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Attorney Betsy Penso spoke to +GercekNews about the Jewish Cemetery attacks in Istanbul and ongoing antisemitism in Turkey
Attorney and writer Betsy Penso spoke to +GercekNews about the recent attack on a Jewish Cemetery in Haskoy, Istanbul. She said someone was “trying to trigger the minorities in Turkey.” She also expressed doubt about the fact that the only suspects were children younger than 13.

The Governor’s Office of Istanbul published a written statement about the attack on the Haskoy Jewish Cemetery in Istanbul. It does not mention a motive or links to antisemitic organizations so far. What is your take on the situation? Could this be an isolated incident or is it a by-product of the anti-migrant, anti-minority and antisemitic rhetoric that is on the rise in Turkey?

Yes, as you mentioned there is no mention of an organization within the statement. However, I do believe that there is someone behind this because the statement mentions that only five children who are below 18 and even below 15 are in this attack and they claim that this happened during their soccer game and their wall was within the premises of the graveyard and that is how it happened. Although we should not miss the fact that this attack happened in two steps.

One took place on Wednesday night; 36 graves were vandalized that night. Although this was known, nothing was done to protect the cemetery. And the next day, on Thursday night, another almost 50 graves were again vandalized.

So since it is not a one-step incident we cannot say that “they are like 5 naughty boys,” who are doing this and plus, these graveyards are very heavy, marble, and it is not easy for children --even five children-- to destroy them, to take them down. I am sure that some equipment was used and somebody gave them these tools for them to use them. Eventually, yes, I do believe that there is an organization or someone behind these scenes that we do not know yet and I hope that the prosecutors will find the people who are really supporting these kinds of acts.

Eyewitnesses say that this kind of extensive damage would require the use of sledgehammers or other similar heavy tools. You also mentioned this. The testimony and the speed with which the children were detained raised eyebrows in the Turkish media. What do you think?

So, these children think that if you are not Turkish by blood you are not a Turkish national. You do not have the right to have citizenship or to live in this country. Actually, Haskoy is a very old Jewish neighborhood and Jewish people lived there for maybe more than 300 or 400 years but now even their graveyards are getting vandalized. I think somebody is trying to trigger the minorities in Turkey so that they move far away to other neighborhoods or other countries. It is a big problem, there are no young Jews left in Turkey anymore. There are only a couple of people and after hearing all of these stories, I do not believe that people will continue living over there. People do not even respect the dead.

I want to tap your experience as a lawyer. What will happen to the children that were detained? Legally speaking… could this be a cover-up? Because if adults committed this crime, they would be subjected to heftier sentences compared to minors. 

Exactly. the Turkish Criminal Code regulates the crime of vandalizing cemeteries with the punishment of one to four years and if the crime is committed against a religious group, the punishment is one-third more. but when this crime is committed by a minor who is less than 12, the minor does not get punished because he does not have a criminal capacity. Those who are between 12 and 16 should get a report from the institution of forensic medicine to determine whether they hold a criminal capacity or not. So in the end, since all the children who vandalized the cemetery are between 11 and 13, we believe that no one will really get punished in the end. So, we need to find the actual perpetrators to get a just decision.

Could this attack be the work of groups that are opposed to the reset in Turkish-Israeli relations? The timing certainly seems to suggest so…

I do not know; of course there can be a connection but this is not the first time that something like this has happened to Jews in Turkey. So, it might be a coincidence as well, because each and every year something like this happens. This time it was in Istanbul and this was very big, but a couple of years ago other cemeteries of Jewish people were also vandalized. I am not sure if it was connected to this, but yes, this incident found coverage in Israel, as well. We heard that the army radio was talking about this incident, and I think on Sunday a lot of people might be talking about this in Israel as well.

Betsy Penso is an attorney, rights advocates and editor. She writes for Avlaremoz, a platform that focuses on Jews around the globe and all minorities in Turkey.