WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent statement that Zionism is a crime against
humanity, speaking during a press conference in Ankara on
“Obviously we not only disagree with it, we found it
objectionable,” Kerry said while standing beside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu after their meeting, part of Kerry’s first visit as secretary to a
He noted that he had a “very direct and very honest
conversation” about the matter and would raise it with Erdogan himself when they
met later in the day.
“But that said, Turkey and Israel are both vital
allies of the United States,” Kerry added. “We want to see them work together in
order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to
change this relationship.”
He said he believed that was possible and that
Davutoglu had expressed “a genuine desire” to do so.
During a speech
Wednesday in Vienna, Erdogan said, “Just as with Zionism, anti- Semitism and
Fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against
Davutoglu, when asked about Erdogan’s comments and other
recent “hostile” statements toward Israel, replied, “This is not an attitude
toward a country. This is not an attitude toward a community.
We are just
reacting toward a hostile conduct.”
Referring to the Mavi Marmara
flotilla incident, in which Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish citizens as
they tried to break the Gaza blockade in May 2010, he maintained, “No single
statement carries a price higher than the blood of a person.”
the Davutoglu meeting, a White House official had even harsher words for
“We reject Prime Minister Erdogan’s characterization
of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong,” White
House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
“We encourage people of
all faiths, cultures and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the
differences of our times,” he said.
Several members of Congress have also
registered their condemnation.
“The Turkish leader is taking the region
back to the ugliness of the past just as Israel was reaching out to improve
relations with Ankara,” said Eliot Engel (D-New York), ranking member of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee.
He praised Kerry for speaking out
against the comments, but stressed, “It is time that the rest of the
international community make clear to the Turkish government that it must end
the hate-filled rhetoric toward Israel and halt the dangerous threats of
Rep. Steve Israel (D–New York) and Sen. Mark Kirk
(R-Illinois) also announced on Friday that they would be circulating a letter
calling on Erdogan to retract his statements.
“It is unacceptable for
national leaders like Prime Minister Erdogan to be spouting hateful rhetoric
that further threatens unrest in an already perilous region,” the two members of
Congress said in a joint statement.
“Zionism is a non-discriminatory
affirmation of Jewish nationhood.”
A spokesman for United Nations
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that Erdogan’s comment, if interpreted
correctly, was not only wrong but contradicts the very principles on which the
Alliance of Civilizations is based.
Erdogan made his comment at the UN’s
Alliance of Civilizations event in Vienna.
believes is it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were
uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership,”
Ban’s spokesman said.
“Religious intolerance – anti-Semitism,
Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination – are all too real in too many
parts of the world. We must stand united in confronting these life-and-death
threats to the community fabric,” Ban’s spokesman said.
In spite of
Erdogan’s latest anti-Israel rhetoric, MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) was in Istanbul
on Thursday and Friday, to participate in the Young Presidents Organization’s
Global Leadership Summit.
Herzog said, “One feels there is a clear
difference between the political leadership and the connections between the
He said he believed that there was “goodwill on
behalf of the Israeli leadership” toward Turkey, and that it had made efforts to
repair the rift between the two countries.
He noted that trade between
Israel and Turkey has increased and that it was important for both countries to
find a way to mend their relationship.Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters
contributed to this report.