Erdogan’s fiery remarks hurting Turkish-Israeli ties


Ankara : Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the harshest critics of Israel’s recent military operations in the Gaza Strip but he surprised all observers with his remarkably fiery remarks made Thursday night at a panel discussion with Israel’s President Shimon Peres.

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“You (Israel) know very well how to kill people,” an enraged Erdogan said to Peres during the discussion on the Gaza issue at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “You raising your voice (to me) shows the psychology of the guilty.”

“You killed people,” Erdogan said, adding that “the Sixth Commandment says, ‘Thou shall not kill'”.

After being cut off by the moderator and complaining that Peres had been allowed more time to speak, Erdogan stormed out of the discussion saying, “For me Davos is finished.”

Word of Erdogan’s explosive speech spread quickly in Turkey and thousands of people gathered at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in the early hours of Friday morning to welcome home what one banner described as “the conquer of Davos”.

From the first day of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, Erdogan has been a loud critic, condemning Israel’s “disproportionate use of force,” saying the operation was a “crime against humanity” and a “stain on history’s page”.

The prime minister’s forceful statements and anti-Semitism on show at protests around Turkey were enough to alarm US Jewish lobbying groups to issue a public appeal to Erdogan.

“Our Jewish friends in Turkey feel besieged and threatened. A connection is clearly perceived between the inflammatory denunciation of Israel by Turkish officials and the rise of anti-Semitism,” the leaders of five US Jewish lobby groups said in an open letter to Erdogan.

At various protests around Turkey demonstrators have shouted anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slogans. A group of nationalists in Eskisehir, a province in northwestern Turkey, made headlines when they hung a sign outside their office which read “dogs allowed, Armenians and Jews cannot enter”.

Facing increased criticism from abroad as well as from liberals in the Turkish press, Erdogan in recent days had toned down his remarks and has specifically condemned anti-Semitism.

In an attempt to distance the government from its perceived pro-Hamas line, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan earlier this week told reporters that Hamas needed to decide whether it wants to be an armed group or a political party. It was a line that Erdogan repeated Thursday night in Davos.

In recent years Turkey has attempted to use its position in having good ties with both Israel and its fellow Muslim nations in the Middle East to play the role of mediator but Erdogan’s statements appear to have undermined that aim.

“We have lost the impartiality we had between Hamas and Fatah, as well as between Syria and Israel,” retired diplomat Inal Batu was quoted in Hurriyet newspaper Friday.

After their heated debate Thursday night Peres telephoned Erdogan and apologized for raising his voice. Erdogan in turn has said that his walking out of the debate was in protest at the moderator, not at Peres. The diplomatic spinning has started but there is no doubt that Turkish-Israeli ties have been hurt.