Eighty-nine members of the U.S. congress sent a letter to Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, expressing their “grave disappointment” over statements he made at the United Nations sponsored Alliance of Civilizations forum in Vienna last month, “equating Zionism – the foundation of the Jewish State and the movement for Jewish self-determination – with fascism and anti-Semitism and labeling it a ‘crime against humanity.’”
The letter was sent to Erdoğan on Tuesday, March 12.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said,“Today, 89 Members of the U.S. Congress are expressing to Prime Minister Erdoğan that his outlandish comment is simply unacceptable. National leaders like Prime Minister Erdoğan cannot be spouting incendiary rhetoric that further threatens unrest in an already perilous region. Zionism is a non-discriminatory affirmation of Jewish nationhood, and the Prime Minister’s comment disparages this noble historical enterprise.”
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) used similarly strong language in chastising the Turkish head of state. “Prime Minister Erdoğan’s latest comments were outrageous and offensive. Rather than pursuing closer ties with the United States, Europe and Israel, Erdoğan continues to pursue a policy of distance and isolation from the West. I urge the Prime Minister to apologize for his remarks and chart a better course for the future of the Turkish people.”
The legislators also took pains in their letter to acknowledge Turkey’s historic legacy of tolerance and that it was the first Muslim country to recognize the newly reborn Jewish state in 1949.
“Your nation led the region, and much of the world, in acknowledging the right of the Jewish people to live in peace and security in its national homeland,” they wrote.
While economic relations between Turkey and Israel remain robust, and figures for 2012 even show a sharp increase, the congressional leaders wrote that they “regret the harsh tone adopted by you and senior Turkish officials in the recent past – culminating in the appalling comment” which he made at the Viennese forum.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said, “Prime Minister Erdoğan simply must retract his statement. His comments were wrong and hurtful, particularly for a national leader. Turkey has a history of religious tolerance and I hope that Prime Minister Erdoğan leads his country back in that direction.”
Twenty European Union parliamentary members, representing 11 nations and five political groups, sent a similar letter to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Lady Catherine Ashton, informing her that they condemn the Turkish Prime Minister’s statements about Israel, and called on her to do the same at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on March 11.
The EU parliamentarians wrote:
We have heard statements like these before, but what makes this situation even more troubling is that it comes from a leader of a country seeking to join our Union. Thus, we have a further obligation to speak out against these acts, not simply in defense of Israel but in promotion of our core values of tolerance and democracy.
Lady Ashton said that the comments on Zionism attributed to Erdoğan were “unacceptable to the EU, now and forever.” The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Israeli President Shimon Peres: “We didn’t agree with Mr Erdogan’s statement and we made it clear that we couldn’t agree at all with it.”
Some contend that the Turkish government has already clarified Erdoğan’s statements, but few have been mollified by an explanation, so frequently offered by haters of Israel, that rather than hating Jews, it is just the Jewish State, or the policies of Israel that is hated.
Turkey’s Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc, speaking at a conference at the German Federal Parliamentary conference hall in Berlin on Tuesday, March 5, offered that excuse.
The explanation provided by Arinc, according to the Turkish news outlet TimeTurk, was that “Turkey does not have a problem with Jews, rather, its problem is with the government of the Jewish State.” Arinc went on:
Just as the Israeli government criticized the Turkish government freely in the past, we might have criticized the Israeli government and its officials. And I believe we did it in a very strong manner. But we would not have any thoughts that would confront your faith or challenge the reasons for your existence. We would not utter a word that would hurt you.
Arinc’s remarks came in response, according to Anadolu Agency, to a call from Michael Friedmann, former German politician and current television host during the conference on “Muslims, Jews and Christians: Peace is possible!”
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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