While Iran’s president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been commonly seen as the archetypical Jew-hater, having denied the Holocaust and vowing to “Wipe Israel off the map,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is inching his way to the top of the list of ‘Israel and Jew-haters.’
Although Erdogan is not alone within the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led Turkish government to express negative sentiments about Israel, it is Erdogan who has publicly expressed the most visceral of anti-Israel statements.
The Israeli government approved “Cast Lead” operation against Gaza based Hamas, which had lobbed close to 10,000 rockets into Southern Israel, was the “match which lit the fire” of Erdogan’s rage against Israel. Erdogan’s Islamist background and convictions and that of his political party which has received the votes of the largely religiously Muslim majority in Anatolia, makes his attacks on the Jewish state politically useful, and personally cathartic.
Bloomberg reported on 11/29/10 that “U.S. and Israeli diplomats agreed that the increasingly strained relationship between Turkey and Israel derived mostly from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hatred of the Jewish State, according to cables posted by Wikileaks.org.” The article in Business Week goes on to say “Israeli ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy described Erdogan as a “fundamentalist” who “hates us religiously.”
This was revealed in a cable U.S. ambassador to Turkey James F. Jeffrey sent to Washington and now released by Wikileaks.
The row between Erdogan and Israel seems to have begun on January 29, 2009, when Erdogan walked off the stage during a World Economic Forum panel discussion on Gaza, in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan was upset that he was not given the last word, and shouted at Israel’s President Shimon Peres saying, “Mr. Peres, you’re older than me and your voice comes out in a very loud tone. And the loudness of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience.” Not satisfied, Erdogan added, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”
On February 19, 2009, Current Affairs reported that, “Turkish Prime Minister says Israeli premier’s recent remarks about Gaza are inconsistent and create distrust among leaders.” Erdogan said that, “the comments made by Olmert are inconsistent. Which part of his remarks will you believe?” Erdogan made these statements during a joint press conference with his Croatian counterpart in Ankara. Erdogan was apparently upset with Olmert for not advising him on the impending Israeli operation in Gaza.
Olmert, for his part, pointed out that he didn’t tell Erdogan about the Gaza operation “because he didn’t know that he would order an offensive in a few days, and because he could not expect to inform any prime minister about Israel’s military plans.” Olmert added, “Quite frankly, I didn’t call the president of the United States, my good friend, George W. Bush, at that time, and say to him, I am going to attack Gaza …why should I say to any prime minister what the military plans of Israel are for defending its citizens? I don’t think it was the right thing to do…and I was quite unhappy with the feelings that were expressed by the Turkish prime minister.”
With Erdogan assuming the role of the protector of Hamas-led Gaza, it was only a matter of time before Erdogan would provoke a confrontation with Israel. It came on May 31, 2010, when the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish boat chartered by the Islamist Turkish NGO IHH with ties to Hamas and Erdogan’s government, sailed to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli (and Egyptian) blockade of Gaza. Told to halt their advance towards Gaza, the people aboard the ship refused and beat up Israeli naval commandos who boarded the ship. Fearing for their lives, the outnumbered Israeli commandos opened fire on their Turkish attackers killing nine.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the incident in an interview saying “This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists, they weren’t peace activists, these were violent supporters of terrorism.” For Erdogan however, it was an opportunity to express his visceral hate for Israel. “Israel cannot clean the blood off its hands through any excuse,” Erdogan said, “It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israeli lawlessness. This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse.”
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