Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been shooting off his mouth again.
Since Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Turkish president has been vocal in his denunciations of his move. But while condemning the American president, Erdogan has gone out of his way to demonize Israel, which restored full diplomatic relations with Turkey in 2016 after a six-year hiatus.
Erdogan, a champion of the Palestinian cause, has every right to voice support for the Palestinians. But when he gratuitously denounces Israel, a friendly country, he crosses a line.
At a summit in Istanbul on December 13, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation pushed back against Trump by endorsing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel captured the eastern sector of the city during the 1967 Six Day War and subsequently annexed it, enraging Muslims around the world.
Speaking in his capacity as host of the summit, Erdogan urged the international community to recognize Palestinian statehood and the United States to “reverse” its “mistake.”
No problem here.
But when he changed the subject by lashing out at Israel, claiming it’s “a country that brutally kills women and children alike,” he diminished himself and undermined his argument about Jerusalem and his advocacy of Palestinian nationhood.
In the days leading up to the summit, he was equally harsh toward Israel.
Addressing the Turkish parliament on the eve of Trump’s decision, Erdogan said, “Mr. Trump, Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims. This could lead us to break off our diplomatic relations with Israel.”
Instead of threatening to sever ties with the United States, which issued the declaration on Jerusalem, Erdogan conveniently took out his venom on Israel. Erdogan resorted to the same tactic in September, when he warned Israel that its support of Kurdish independence in Iraq could have dire consequences on their bilateral relationship.
Erdogan continued his campaign of vilification by branding Israel a “state of occupation” which deploys “terror” against the Palestinians.
Israeli politicians had no choice but to respond to his calumnies.
Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party and the former finance minister, tweeted, “Those who deny the murder of children in the Armenian massacre should not preach morality to us.”
During a visit to Paris, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back. “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people. That is not the man who is going to lecture us.”
As if on cue, Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kahn, responded. “It is not possible to take seriously the allegations made by a mentality which massacred thousands of Palestinians (and) turned the lands of the Palestinians into an open-air prison,” he wrote. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms Israeli PM Netanyahu’s remarks targeting the Republic of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
It’s regrettable that Turkey and Israel — which have common strategic interests and robust commercial relations — are lobbing insults at each other. But Erdogan is entirely at fault. Since the first Gaza war in 2008-2009, he has been taking cheap pot shots at Israel, venting personal animus at it and playing to his conservative Islamic base in Turkey and abroad.
If Erdogan is intent on jeopardizing Turkey’s relationship with Israel, he will have to bear responsibility for it. He would be strongly advised to think twice before engaging in further bluster and bombast.