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Turkey-US relations sour over Erdogan antisemitism claims

Washington and Ankara exchange condemnations over Erdogan's 'antisemitic' remarks against Israel
Then-US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) hold a press conference at the presidential complex in Ankara on 24 August 2016 (AFP)
By in
Istanbul

Tensions have risen again between Turkey and the US after the Biden administration condemned as "antisemitic" comments made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against Israel over its Gaza bombing campaign

The US State Department referenced comments made by the Turkish president in a televised speech on Monday, as Israel's operation in Gaza entered its second week.

“A former Israeli prime minister in the past told me that he had the highest pleasure in his life by killing Palestinians while he was a general,” Erdogan said.

“He told me that while I was visiting Israel as a PM. That’s part of their nature, they only get satisfaction by sucking blood.”

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Even though Erdogan didn’t name the Israeli prime minister, he mentioned the same anecdote in a speech in 2018 where he said it was Ariel Sharon.

Erdogan in the same speech accused US President Joe Biden of writing history “with your bloody hands” by supporting Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Though the State Department did not specify which comments they specifically found problematic, they warned Erdogan against further encouraging unrest.

“We urge President Erdogan and other Turkish leaders to refrain from incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence. We call Turkey to join the United States in working to end the conflict,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.

The Turkish government has spent the past few months trying to mend frayed relations with Washington and had reached out to other western allies after a year of bitter disputes.

However, Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide last month and the US administration’s lack of meaningful engagement with Ankara further undermined relations, triggering a public outcry in the country.

“It is unthinkable that our president would be silent to this barbarity as Israel is forcibly evicting civilians from their homes, massacring civilians, even children," said Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin in a statement on Wednesday.

“The massacres undertaken by Israel couldn’t be veiled by the antisemitism label. We completely reject and condemn the US State Department’s unrealistic statement.”

Turkey's Chief Rabbinate Foundation criticised the US statement on in a tweet on Wednesday

“It is unfair and reprehensible to imply that President Erdogan is antisemitic," said the body in a statement.

“On the contrary, he has always been constructive, supportive and encouraging towards us.”

Turkey has arguably the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel, with a population thought to number around 14,000.

However, Turkish Jews often face abuse at times of heightened violence in Israel-Palestine.

Last week the website of Salom, a newspaper and website focusing on Turkey's Jewish minority, was hacked by an ultra-nationalist group, who posted "our actions will continue until Palestine is free and independent”.

The Turkish president's comments also came as the Biden administration repeatedly blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry in a separate statement on Wednesday called on Washington to withdraw its veto over the proceedings regarding Palestine.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will also join the UN General Assembly meeting on Palestine on 20 May to discuss the recent tensions, and ask the assembly to take legal steps against Israeli “aggression”.