The White House on Friday condemned a remark made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, characterizing Zionism as a crime against humanity.

Speaking Wednesday before a Vienna forum of the Alliance of Civilizations – a UN framework for West-Islam dialogue – the Turkish prime minister said, “It is necessary that we must consider – just like Zionism, or anti-Semitism, or fascism – Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

"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.

Israeli officials said Thursday they did not know whether US Secretary of State John Kerry would raise the issue of Erdogan's remark when he visits Turkey Friday.

Kerry is on a 10-day, nine-country trip. It has been widely expected that improving ties with Israel would be on the agenda of his talks in Ankara, since this is something the US has consistently been pushing.

The United Nations also released a statement condemning the remarks made by Erdogan "if the comment about Zionism was interpreted correctly."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon heard Erdogan's speech through an interpreter, according to the statement, which said that if the comments were interpreted properly, they were "wrong" and "hurtful."

The statement added that the Secretary-General sees it an unfortunate situation that this occurred during a meeting under the theme of responsible leadership, and contradicts the principles on which the Alliance of Civilizations is based.

"We must stand united in confronting these life-and-death threats to the community fabric," concluded the statement.

In January, following the circulation of a 2010 video showing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi calling Jews bloodsuckers and the descendants of apes and pigs, a visiting senatorial delegation immediately challenged him over that comment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Erdogan’s comments were “hollow words that only reflect ignorance.”

“Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people, and to deny any people their right to self-determination and to their national movement is absurd,” he said. “We will not dignify such nonsense with any future comment.”

The Geneva-based UN Watch, which first flagged and circulated the Turkish leader’s speech, expressed shock at the comments. The group also urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – who was present on the stage when Erdogan made the remarks, and stayed silent – “to speak out and condemn the speech.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has held his tongue for months in the face of Erdogan’s serial remarks against Israel, jabbed back Thursday, labeling Erdogan’s characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity “sinister and mendacious.”

Breaking with its practice of not responding to such tongue-lashings in the hope of not exacerbating its shaky ties with Ankara, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying Netanyahu strongly condemned Erdogan’s comments and “comparison of Zionism and fascism.”

In his response, Netanyahu said, “This is a sinister and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had disappeared from the world.”

“We remind secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that his predecessor Kofi Annan recognized that the UN’s 1975 Zionism-is- racism resolution was an expression of anti-Semitism, and he welcomed its repeal,” UN Watch said.

It also called on Erdogan to apologize.

The group said the Turkish leader had misused a global podium to “incite hatred” and issue “Ahmadinejad-style pronouncements.”

The American Jewish Committee, Anti- Defamation League and B’nai B’rith all denounced the remarks.

One government official pointed out that the comments had come during a speech that was not devoted to Israel, and reflected Erdogan’s mind-set that it was just natural to include Zionism in a list of the world’s evils.

“He was just stating what for him is the obvious,” he said.

Nevertheless, the official continued, Israel needs to keep trying to improve ties with Ankara “against all odds.”

“Stabilizing ties with Turkey is strategically important for us, and we must keep trying,” he said.

Erdogan made the comments despite messages Jerusalem had sent Ankara over the last few weeks that it was interested in creating a more “positive dynamic” in the badly strained relationship so the two countries could work together to further common interests.

The content of the messages was that it was important for Israel and Turkey to “get more positive vectors” into their relationship.

In the same vein, National Security Adviser Ya’acov Amidror reportedly met with the director-general of the Turkish Foreign Ministry three weeks ago in Rome.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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