Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay's linking of the "Jewish Diaspora" to recent anti-government unrest drew condemnation from world Jewish leaders on Tuesday and concern among Turkey's Jews that the comments could make them targets of popular anger.
Atalay's office said his comments to reporters in the town of Kirikkale, which were published on the Cihan news agency website on Monday, were taken out of context.
Turkey was rocked by violent protests last month when a small effort to save Gezi Park in central Istanbul from redevelopment mushroomed into a mass demonstration by tens of thousands of people opposed to what they saw as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.
Erdogan, in power for 10 years, and other officials have cited conspiracies involving "foreign circles," an "interest-rate lobby," foreign media and terrorists engineering the protests to undermine Turkey's economy and political clout. Atalay's comments pointed the finger at the "Jewish Diaspora."
"There are those inside and outside the country who are envious about Turkey growing too much," said Atalay, one of four deputy prime ministers. "They are all uniting. On the one side, you have the Jewish Diaspora. You have seen the foreign media's attitude over the Gezi Park events, how quickly they bought into it and how quickly and widely they started broadcasting before any assessment was made."
In a written statement to the media on Tuesday, Atalay's office said some of the minister's comments had been taken out of context and augmented, resulting in articles claiming Atalay had said the Jewish Diaspora was behind the protests.
"There was no such statement or assessment made by our Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay," the statement said.
The World Jewish Congress said it was shocked by Atalay's "despicable" and "totally baseless slurs."
"Mr. Atalay should have the decency to apologize," it said in a written statement. "His remarks are an insult not only to the Jewish people but also to the many Turkish citizens who took part in the protests and who have real grievances."
The Turkish Jewish Community and Chief Rabbinate, which represents most of Turkey's estimated 23,000 Jews, said Atalay's remarks could lead to reprisals against its members in a mostly Muslim country of 76 million.
"We are trying to obtain information about the meaning, the scope and details of Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay's statement about the 'Jewish Diaspora being behind Gezi protests,'" the community body said in a joint statement on its website. "[Because] Turkish Jewish citizens, as well as other Jewish people living all around the globe, may be affected and [singled out] as a target of such a generalization, we wish to express our concerns and share our apprehension and worry of the consequences that such perceptions can cause."
Turkey's Jews, most of whom trace their roots to the 15th century when their ancestors found refuge in the Ottoman Empire from the Spanish Inquisition, have faced pressure in recent years as relations between Israel and Turkey have soured.
While at least one other member of Erdogan's ruling party has suggested Jewish involvement in the Gezi protests, the remarks by Atalay appeared to be the first such public accusation by a senior member of the ruling AK Party, which traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement.
In a June 16 message on Twitter, the AK Party mayor of the Turkish capital of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, said the Gezi protests were a "game of the Jewish lobby" and cited a Turkish newspaper report that a Washington-based think tank linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group had predicted the protests earlier in the year.