Turkish community chief disowns ‘plotter rabbi’

By Sami Kohen, November 20, 2008

The Jewish community in Turkey has warned that the case of a supposed convert to Judaism accused of being involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government may stir antisemitic feeling.

Tuncay Guney, 36, left Turkey in 2004 and emigrated to Canada, where he reportedly adopted the Jewish faith and became a "rabbi" in Toronto.

Mr Guney is charged with being part of a secret nationalist organisation planning to topple the present regime. More than 40 suspects, including retired generals and bureaucrats, are in custody and are now on trial in Istanbul. Mr Guney, being out of the country, will be tried in absentia.

What concerns the Jews here is the sudden appearance of Mr Guney as a rabbi. His picture showing him with a beard and an apparently Charedi outfit has been widely published in the Turkish media and been described as the "Haham" (Jewish sage).

Mr Guney is an obscure and controversial figure, who is said to have had connections with the Turkish and foreign intelligence services. The indictment on the case regarding the projected coup cites him as one of the key figures in the conspiracy.

From Canada, Mr Guney said in interviews with several Turkish television channels that he was working as a rabbi at the Beith Jacob synagogue in Toronto.

He claimed that he was born Jewish, because he was a Sabbetist, a descendent of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire who followed the false Messiah Sabbetai Sevi and converted to Islam in the 17th century.
Turkish Jews have been concerned with the huge publicity that Mr Guney has been receiving in the country's media.

The leader of the Jewish community, Silvio Ovadia, expressed this anxiety at a press conference during which he stressed that the publicity portraying a person accused of conspiracy against the regime as a Jewish convert and a rabbi was provoking anti-Jewish feelings.

Mr Ovadia reported that the Jewish community had made inquiries in Toronto and found no sign of Mr Guney being a rabbi at the Beith Jacob synagogue.

He also said that Mr Guney had no connection whatsoever with the Jewish community in Turkey.

Last updated: 11:40am, November 20 2008