Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a nasty habit of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany when he’s in a foul anti-Israel mood. Since the outbreak of the current war in the Gaza Strip, which was triggered by Hamas’ slaughter of 1,200 Israelis and foreigners in southern Israel on October 7, Erdogan has repeatedly denounced Israel in a series of cheap attacks.
Yesterday, once again, he resorted to this disgusting, wholly inappropriate comparison when he likened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler and compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to Nazi Germany’s transport of Jews to concentration camps.
Erdogan, an Islamist and a champion of the Palestinian cause, has a track record of resurrecting this historically faulty comparison when he is eager to flaunt his pro-Palestinian credentials and impress his conservative Muslim base.
In 2014, during Israel’s limited incursion into Gaza, Erdogan accused Israel of displaying “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.” And in 2018, after the passage of the controversial nation-state law in the Knesset defining Israel as a Jewish state, he claimed that the “spirit of Hitler” resides in some Israeli leaders.
Erdogan, whose attitude toward Israel has always been governed by the tenor of Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, began hurling verbal abuse at Israel shortly after the Israeli Air Force launched a bombing campaign in advance of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza at the end of October.
He went into his abusive attack mode about a month after meeting Netanyahu in New York City to discuss their forthcoming visits to Ankara and Jerusalem, which have since been cancelled, and their mutual desire to improve bilateral ties.
Turkey and Israel resumed normal diplomatic relations in the spring of 2022 after a four-year period of strain.
Israel’s relationship with Turkey reached a high point in the 1990s following the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
It took a sudden nose dive after the first cross-border Gaza war in 2008-2009 and the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, during which Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian Turks aboard a Turkish vessel trying to break Israel’s naval siege of Gaza, which was ruled by Hamas from 2006 onward.
Erdogan, having established a close bond with Hamas’ leadership, was angered by Israel’s – and Egypt’s – blockade of Gaza. In a rage, he drastically reduced diplomatic relations with Israel.
Turkey and Israel reconciled in 2016, but just two years later, in the wake of violent incidents along Israel’s border with Gaza instigated by Hamas, they were at odds again and Erdogan recalled Turkey’s ambassador in Tel Aviv.
Last year, following a series of high-level talks and President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara, Israel and Turkey reconciled yet again. Until recently, it seemed as if Erdogan had learned from the past and was ready to build a new era of mutually beneficial relations with Israel.
In retrospect, this was a pipe dream.
Much to Israel’s bitter disappointment, Erdogan could not bring himself to condemn the Hamas atrocities of October 7. And after Erdogan accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, an accusation that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed as “absurd,” Israel recalled its diplomats from Ankara. Shortly afterward, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv, though it did not break relations with Israel.
Last month, Erdogan upped the ante. He branded Israel as a “terrorist state” and described Hamas terrorists as “resistance fighters” and Hamas as “a liberation group fighting to protect its lands.”
Earlier this month, in a speech at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, Erdogan lambasted Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and “the butcher of Gaza.”
Then, after Shin Bet director Ronen Bar announced that Israel intended to assassinate Hamas leaders in Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey, the Turkish government warned Israel that it would face “serious consequences” if this happened.
In his latest blast at Israel, Erdogan stooped embarrassingly low.
He claimed that the death and murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust was not as egregious as the demise of 21,000 Palestinians in Gaza. He compared Israeli detention camps, where Hamas terrorists are held, to Nazi extermination camps. And in the same breath, he equated Netanyahu with Hitler. “Is what Netanyahu is doing any less than Hitler? It is not,” Erdogan said. “They were talking ill of Hitler. What difference do you have from Hitler? They will make us miss Hitler.”
Incensed by Erdogan’s shameful lies, Netanyahu denounced his dismal human rights record, accusing him of committing “genocide” against the Kurds and arresting journalists who oppose his policies. And in a stunning rejoinder, Netanyahu declared, “He is the last one who can preach morality to us.”
Netanyahu has a point. Erdogan is a petty politician and a narcissist consumed by his obsessions, one of which happens to be Israel.
Israel has consistently tried to normalize relations with Turkey, a regional power and the sole Muslim member of the NATO alliance. But this has been an incredibly difficult task due to Erdogan’s wholehearted agreement with Palestinian grievances and interests.
In light of his most recent outburst, one can safely conclude that he is an unreliable and fickle partner. One can also assume that Israel and Turkey will never succeed in normalizing relations to the fullest extent until Erdogan leaves the political scene once and for all.