Popular Articles

Fifty years ago, kidnappers murdered an Israeli diplomat and shocked the world

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Efraim Elrom, Consul General of Israel in Istanbul, was kidnapped and murdered by PFLP-linked radical leftists fifty years ago, in May 1971. (Photo: avlaremoz.com)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

It was March 1949 when Turkey set diplomatic relations with the newborn Jewish State. Obviously, there was too much in common between the two peoples, if one considers the presence of Jewish communities in the Ottoman lands, going back for centuries.

The Turkish rule in the Middle East had dramatically ended in December 1917, when the British Army led by General Allenby and backed by Arabs threw the Ottomans out of the Jerusalem Sandjak. It was the end of an era that started in the early 16th century when Sultan Selim I conquered these lands where the three continents meet.

Israel was pleased to be recognized by Turkey, a secular Muslim country with occidental ambitions that choose a democratic path, despite the efforts of the USSR to attract Ankara to its side. Turkey, enjoying the benefits of the Marshall Plan devised by the USA to help Europe’s reconstruction after WW2, was pleased to be accepted in the western club. To hold relations with Israel would further enhance its position in the new world order, the Cold War… Israel just won its war of independence against the many Arab armies and was shown to be an important player in a land where still feudal traditions were common among its neighbours. Israel was considered to be an outpost of the Western culture and civilization in the Middle East deserts.

From 1948-63, the natural inclination of Turkish foreign policy was aligned with the US and NATO, and accordingly, the national government saw the rapid economic development and modernization of the Jewish state as ripe with opportunity, as did Israel. After electoral upheaval, a more pro-Arab lean emerged, to satisfy demands of rural religious factions.

On the other hand, economic and military transactions have always been vivid, and Turkey has been an attractive country for Israelis, who enjoyed the Turkish culture, cuisine and as a tourist destination over the years. All this being said, it has to be admitted that diplomatic relations between the two countries proved to be a continuous sinus function, with ups and downs, sensitive to regional conflicts and highly dependent on religious considerations, particularly from the Turkish side. 

Israel came to my knowledge in 1967. Then I was a kid at primary school, and Israel meant little if nothing to me. The Six Days War was an important turning point in that respect… I remember as if yesterday, newspapers, radio broadcasts announcing Haifa was falling, Tel Aviv burning, and Arab armies sweeping out Israel. It had been a period not experienced so far by our tiny community, for which Israel was a source of national pride.

The end of the Six Days War, the defeat of Egypt and Syria, and most important the reunification of Jerusalem was a milestone. Turkey joined the international chorus asking Israel to return all lands occupied during the war, including Jerusalem. However, Turkey also blocked some resolutions of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in the meeting held in Rabat / Morocco, that would condemn Israel as the initiator of the war. That was a kind of diplomacy of equilibrium that the Turkish government felt obliged to follow. 

As the only Muslim State at that time, holding diplomatic relations with Israel, the Ankara government felt it necessary to keep a balance between the two sides: Israel and Arab states. This remained the main Turkish policy for decades. Then came the years that witnessed cooperation between the PLO and the leftist groups in Turkey. 

Turkish militants of various leftist groups were being trained for armed struggle in the bases of the PLO at Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. They aimed to overthrow the democratically elected government and replace the whole state apparatus, which they found too pro-American, thus imperialist, with a Marxist – Leninist body. 

Get thej.ca a Pro Israel Voice by Email. Never miss a top story that effects you, your family & your community

Ephraim Elrom was the Israeli consul general in Istanbul. He was an important figure in Israel that worked for years at different posts of the Police department. He was one of Adolf Eichmann’s investigators that prepared the file for the Nazi criminal. 

Elrom had been kidnapped by one of these leftist groups in May 1971 in exchange to its members that were under arrest. Israel was considered as the extension of American imperialism in the Middle East. The radical narrative was, that Israel kicked out the Palestinian Arabs from their land and obliged them to live in refugee camps. Thus, it needed to be fought, and Elrom was a perfect match for an attempt that would bring worldwide attention to the groups’ cause. That had been the case. 

But there were also domestic factors at play, with the country having just undergone another military coup. The National Security Council, which met on April 26, 1971, declared martial law in 11 provinces. Terrorists evaluated kidnapping one of the consuls of 3 countries – the US, Iran, and Israel. The US was not an easy target and the popular opinion of taking an Iranian hostage was uncertain.

What was certain, was the political capital of capturing an Israeli was worth the risk. It was called the “May 1st Operation”, although it was postponed from that original date.  The kidnapping and killing of Elrom was at the hands of the Turkish People’s Liberation Army (THKC). They demanded as ransom, the release of all imprisoned revolutionaries. Two were on trial and evidence was at hand that there were direct connections to the PFLP.

The hardline government of Turkey responded, by rounding up hundreds of leftists and almost 50 prominent figures. Deputy Premier Sadi Kocas proclaimed the government had “no intention of bargaining with a handful of adventurers.” Along with arrests and house to house searches ramping up, a curfew was declared and posters of militants being sought were hung all over the walls of Istanbul and printed in the press every day. Some sources state that the Israeli government was convinced the curfew panicked the kidnappers and hastened Elrom’s murder. Efraim Elrom was shot three times and killed in an apartment near the embassy, around 18:00 on May 22nd, 1971. The place where Elrom was shot was in Nishantashi, a well frequented place (where too many Jewish families were / are leaving). That’s why it had been a big shock to hear that he was killed in a quarter with high Jewish presence – and in the middle of the city 500 yards from the Consulate.

The four murderers were caught in pairs, two at a safe house about a week after and the final two were raided by police after kidnapping the 14 year old daughter of an army Major. They had demanded passports and safe passage. Instead, one was eliminated and the other seriously wounded.

News footage of a girl kidnapped by the killers of an Israeli diplomat receiving gifts from Turkish officials in 1971.

Elrom’s murder shook both Israel and Turkey, but while creating some strain, it did not significantly impact the two countries’ bilateral relations. However, the annexation of Jerusalem in 1980’s and her proclamation as the eternal capital of the Jewish State created a time of turbulence. Then the Lebanon campaign of 1982 and news of the killings at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp by the Phalangist units brought another breakpoint. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was accused of backing the militia and causing the massacre.

Even the Camp David Peace Agreement of 1977 between Egypt and Israel did not save the deterioration in the relations. Jerusalem and killings in Lebanon overshadowed the mild winds brought by the peace process. However, this did not mean that cooperation was stopped. Undercover military and intelligence partnerships were still there.

With the Oslo peace process, the Turco – Israeli relations enjoyed the peak level. The talks with the Palestinians were welcomed and supported by Turkey. On the other hand, the start of the Quincentennial Foundation that marks the anniversary of the Sephardic Jews in Ottoman lands but also sped up relations. Ankara governments were able to have direct and indirect access furnished by the Foundation, with their Israeli counterparts as well as the Jewish lobby in the USA, thus opening doors to useful relations in all respects.

People in the street were sympathetic towards Israelis. For Israelis, Turkey was a pleasant destination for tourism and a big market for business. Cultural and Sportif exchanges were also at their peak. To see Turkish artists in Israel and Israeli football players in Turkish teams were not bizarre any longer. That was springtime! However, it faded too soon.

Ariel Sharon of Israel and Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit met in Ankara in August 2001. (Photo: sabah.com)

A military cooperation agreement was signed in 1996 and Israel became an important arms supplier to Turkey. In August 2001, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a one day visit to Ankara, which officials told the private Turkish news channel NTV was “stormy”. Sharon wanted pressure put on Yasser Arafat to end the nearly year-long uprising; his hosts saw demands for economic sanctions to be imposed as unacceptable.

The 2002 November elections brought AKP – Justice and Development Party of R. Tayyip Erdogan to power. With a brief exception, he has held the reigns of power since. In 2005 he visited Israel and attended Yad Vashem, and in 2007 Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, became the first leader from Israel to address a parliament in a Muslim land.

Turkey’s journey towards the EU, the good mood that Erdogan spread in the West at first made possible these ties to remain impactful for a certain time. Turkey enjoyed being the only Muslim country to have common subjects to deal with Israel. 

I am optimistic that the two democracies of the Middle East might yet bring fresh air to this desperate region.

Turkey could act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, helping them to go ahead with the peace talks that stopped in the wake of the 21st century. It’s unfortunate to say that this expectation did not work. Turkey and Israel stopped engaging in being strategic partners.

What happened in the decades that followed will be the subject of the article that will follow.

Marsel Russo was born in Istanbul and was raised in a secular Jewish family. He holds a Chemistry degree and an MBA. His deep interest in the Jewish history of the 20th century, as well as other topics, has appeared since 2005 in Shalom, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community of Turkey.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Click an icon above to share, email, or save this article

Read More

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

Breaking News

Recent

Features

News

Current Events

Opinions

Politics

Religion

Culture

Memoriam and Obituaries

PodcastS

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Subscribe Now

Receive the latest in community & international Jewish news direct to your inbox

Terms and Conditions

Privacy Policy

About Us

Advertise with us

contact 

© 2020 THEJ.CA, All Rights Reserved

Previous
Next