After years of publicly restraining himself regarding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry that the words of the leader of Washington’s close NATO ally were anti-Semitic.
According to diplomatic officials, Netanyahu spoke to Kerry overnight on Sunday about the Gaza operation, and said that Erdogan's anti-Semitic comments profaned the memory of the Holocaust.
Erdogan, in the midst of a presidential campaign, said on Saturday that “Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
According to the Turkish website Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan, speaking at a campaign rally in the Black Sea province of Ordu, said the "terrorist state Israel has attacked Gaza once again, hitting innocent children who were playing on a beach."
According to the paper, the crowd frequently interrupted Erdogan's speech by chanting "Down with Israel."
"They always curse at Hitler, but they now even exceed him in barbarism. Some Americans ask why Mr. Prime Minister [Erdogan] makes such comparisons with Hitler. What's that to you? You're America, what's Hitler got to do with you," he said.
This was just the latest in a series of vitriolic comments by Erdogan against Israel since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. He also accused Israel of attempting “systematic genocide” against the Palestinians in Gaza, and likened Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked to Hitler.
One diplomatic official said there was no doubt that Erdogan was using this issue to rile up the masses before the presidential election in Turkey on August 10. The two other main presidential candidates, Turkish PM claimed. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş have also slammed Israel for the Gaza operation, but not used language as toxic as Erdogan’s.
Meretz head Zehava Gal-On was withering in her criticism of Erdogan, calling his comments “appalling” if they were written in the form of a “talkback” to an article on the Internet, and all the more so when uttered by the head of a state, especially a state with diplomatic ties with Israel.
She said that it seems that because of the presidential election Erdogan has lost “control.” Nevertheless, she said, there can be tolerance for a person who thinks he can use his status as the representative of the Turkish people “to spread ugly and baseless lies.”
Gal-On, who points out that she has criticized the use of force in the current operation, said that a leader who “is able to look his citizens in the eye and claim Israel is committing genocide is despicable, vile and irresponsible.”
Gal-on, whose politics are diametrically opposed to those of Shaked, came to her defense, saying that while she was ashamed at comments Shaked placed on her Facebook page, which apparently raised Erdogan's ire, “she is not Hitler, and it is ridiculous to even have to point that out.”
On Saturday the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem called on Israel to avoid “non-essential visits” to Turkey in light of the “public atmosphere” there.
A day earlier, the Foreign Ministry recalled the families of diplomats in Ankara and Istanbul following violent protests outside the embassy and consulate in those cities Thursday night.
Israel also decided to further reduce its diplomatic entourage in Turkey, which is already small following Turkey's expulsion of Israel's ambassador following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
Rocks were thrown and windows broken during the Thursday night protests, which followed Erdogan's “systematic genocide” comment.
In one incident the Israeli flag was ripped down from the ambassador's residence in Ankara, and replaced with a Palestinian one.
Despite this all, Turkey – ironically – still hopes to have a role in mediating a cease fire, and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas was there over the weekend for talks with Erdogan.
One columnist in Hurriyet, however, understands that Erdogan's policies have severely limited Turkey's ability to have a constructive role.
“In the past, Turkey was able to extend its hand to the Palestinians in need; either via Israel itself, or via Egypt,” wrote Murat Yetkin. “But now, because of political conflicts, Turkey has no ambassador in either of those countries, or in neighboring Syria. Turkey’s recent Middle East policies have actually crippled its ability to extend a helping hand to the Palestinians.”