Turkey’s Jewish community defends Erdoğan against antisemitism charge
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Turkey’s Jewish community defends Erdoğan against antisemitism charge

The country’s Chief Rabbinate said a US State Department condemnation of the president’s speech was ‘unfair’

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

Turkey’s Jewish community made a public show of support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this week after the country’s president suggested Israeli prime ministers were “only satisfied when sucking blood”.

The US State Department was among those criticising the Turkish leader for the remarks, describing them as antisemitic.

But the Turkish Chief Rabbinate Foundation tweeted that this was “unfair & reprehensible”, adding: “On the contrary, he has always been constructive, supportive & encouraging towards us.”

Erdoğan made the comments during a lengthy televised speech on Monday in which he attacked Israel for the war in Gaza.

But it was not clear whether his reference to sucking blood was directed specifically towards Israeli prime ministers or to Jewish people more generally.

“The State of Israel, whose borders are still unclear, has become a tool of terror in the hands of politicians chasing Zionist dreams and radicals who deem it permissible to commit crimes against humanity,” Erdoğan said in the speech.

“Fanatical Jews did not even shrink during the peace talks of 1995 from killing their own prime minister, who they accused of granting concessions to the Palestinians.

“Yes, a Jewish prime minister — I won’t give their name — once said to me, ‘Whenever as a serving general I was killing Palestinians, that gave me the greatest pleasure’.

“He was saying this to me, while visiting me as prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. This exists in their character; they are only satisfied when sucking blood.”

Three Israeli prime ministers — Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu — have been in office during Erdoğan’s premiership, but only Sharon held the rank of general in the Israeli military.

Erdoğan, who became president in 2014, has often referred to Israel as a “state of terror” but always rejected accusations of antisemitism by citing the existence of Turkey’s small Jewish population, most of whom live in Istanbul.

But this week the US State Department accused the Turkish president of directly attacking Jewish people for the first time.

“The United States strongly condemns President Erdoğan’s recent anti-Semitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible,” department spokesperson Ned Price said.

“We urge President Erdoğan and other Turkish leaders to refrain from incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence. We call on Turkey to join the United States in working to end the conflict.”

The Turkish Chief Rabbinate tweet, which was written in English but contained a number of spelling mistakes, contained two photos of Erdoğan  attending an event with a number of faith leaders at which the Chief Rabbi was represented.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said in response to the US State Department: “The target of the points raised by the president was not Jews but the government of Israel, which has caused many innocent Palestinians — most of them children, women and young people — to lose their lives through the indiscriminate attacks on Palestine it has continued for days.

“Meanwhile, the president also remembered the words of a former Israeli prime minister.”

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