Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan .
(photo credit: GERARD FOUET / AFP)
Israel asked Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon to temporarily leave the country, in a tit-for-tat response to Ankara’s request a few hours earlier – following Monday’s events in Gaza – for Israel’s Ambassador Eitan Naveh to “temporarily” leave Turkey.
Ankara already recalled its ambassador for consultations on Monday.
The expulsion of Naveh was the harshest bilateral step yet taken by any country against Jerusalem as result of the Gaza incidents, though Ireland and Belgium summoned Israel’s envoy in their respective capitals to register a protest, and South Africa immediately recalled its ambassador for consultations. Israel was also sharply criticized by France, Britain and Germany.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the developments on Tuesday with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He told Macron that Israel will defend its security interests, and that no country would tolerate a threat to its sovereignty.
Jerusalem’s expulsion of a foreign diplomat is extremely rare. The Turkish consul-general, Husnu Gurcan Turkoglu, deals with the Palestinian Authority and represents Turkey’s extensive interests in east Jerusalem. The language of the request for him to leave was identical to the language Ankara used in asking Naveh to depart.
This is the second time in seven years Ankara has expelled the Israeli ambassador, the previous time being in 2011 after Israel refused to apologize for the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. It took until 2016 for the two countries to once again exchange ambassadors.
These moves came as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu publicly traded barbs on Tuesday. Erdogan, as he has done many times in the past, began the acerbic exchange by slamming Israel on Monday as a “terrorist state” that was committing “genocide.”
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Netanyahu responded on Tuesday by saying that Erdogan “is one of the biggest supporters of Hamas, and therefore there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I advise him not to preach to us.”
Erdogan then responded with the following post on Twitter: “Netanyahu is the PM of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60+ yrs in violation of UN resolutions. He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey. Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments.”
To which Netanyahu replied with another statement: “A man who sends thousands of Turkish soldiers to sustain the occupation of northern Cyprus, who invades Syria, will not preach to us when we are defending ourselves from an invasion by Hamas. Someone whose hands are dripping with the blood of countless Kurds in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about combat ethics.”
JUST AS Erdogan used his furious reaction to the Mavi Marmara raid to boost himself politically in 2010, government sources in Jerusalem said he is doing the same thing now, since Turkey will go to the polls for a general and presidential election in just over a month.
In Ireland, meanwhile, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar dismissed calls to expel Israeli Ambassador Zeev Boker, in wake of the situation in Gaza.
“The government will not be expelling the ambassador,” he said. “In recent decades Ireland has never expelled an ambassador.”
Varadkar said that such a move would result in Israel’s expelling Ireland’s envoy, and that as a result “there would be no engagement.”
Nevertheless, he condemned Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force, saying that “live ammunition is not a tool to be used for crowd control.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney did summons Boker to express his country’s “shock and dismay” and appeal for restraint.
Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Simona Frankel, was also summonsed to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. That meeting was due to be held on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa clarified that Monday’s recall of his country’s ambassador, Sisa Ngombane, was only temporary.
“We would like to have a little bit more insight into what is happening, and for that reason we have asked our ambassador to come and brief us,” he said. “The killing of more than 50 people is a matter of concern to all of us, and it should be a matter of concern to all South Africans and people all over the world in the way they were killed, so it is going to be a briefing session.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies sharply criticized the government’s move, issuing a statement saying the decision “is outrageous and displays gross double-standards against the Jewish state.”
The statement noted that Israel is facing a real danger of Hamas inciting people to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.
“The rhetoric used by the government has already has spilled into antisemitic comment on various social media platforms, and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community‚ and other peace-loving South Africans. This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African government to reconsider its decision immediately,” the Jewish Board of Deputies said.
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