At a chic café overlooking the Bosphorus, two Turkish Jewish women are discussing their plans to emigrate when the call to Friday prayers blasts from the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque.
Unable to talk over the deafening singing that fills the café in the Bebek neighborhood of western Istanbul, the women turn to their smartphones to read the news. At least they try to.
Turkey’s government has jammed access to the internet on this November day, reportedly to prevent terrorists from communicating with each other. It spurs major traffic disruptions and overloads several cellular towers.
“This is Turkey,” said one of the women, a 42-year-old businesswoman and mother named Betty, who asks that her last name not be used for security reasons.
“If they don’t want you to communicate, you won’t,” adds her friend Suzette, who makes the same request about her surname.
Betty and Suzette are among the thousands of Turkish Jews seeking foreign passports this year amid growing religiosity in a society where civil rights activists and some ethnic minorities are feeling the weight of the increasingly authoritarian policies of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist president who has used anti-Israel rhetoric.
“Of course we’re thinking about emigrating,” said Betty while scanning the top floor of the café — a quiet place that she proposes for an interview because she does not want to be overheard speaking about Jews to a journalist. “Everyone in the Jewish community is because it is hard to imagine a future for ourselves here. Many Muslims are, too.”