Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be “glad” to return an award given to him in 2004 by a prominent American Jewish group, Turkey’s embassy in the US said Tuesday, amid a growing controversy over the premier’s anti-Israel remarks.
According to Israel National News, the American Jewish Congress had given Erdogan the Profile of Courage award in recognition of his efforts at that time to seek peace in the Middle East. But the AJC now wants the award to be returned following Erdogan’s repeated verbal assaults against Israel, most recently over the Gaza conflict.
Erdogan has slammed Israel’s attacks on Gaza as “genocide” of the Palestinians and suggested that the actions of the Jewish State are worse than those of Hitler.
“Attempts to depict Prime Minister Erdogan’s legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government’s attacks on civilians as expressions of anti-Semitism are an obvious distortion,” Turkey’s ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic wrote in a letter to the president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen.
Kilic said Erdogan would be glad to return the award because of Israel’s actions in Gaza. He described attacks on Erdogan as “an effort to cover up the historic wrongdoings of the Israeli government.”
Rosen had denounced Erdogan as “arguably the most virulent anti-Israel leader in the world” in asking for the award back.
It was not clear how and when the award would be returned.
Erdogan has long portrayed himself as a champion of the “Palestinian cause” and during the current crisis has made clear he sees himself as the sole Muslim leader standing up for their rights. In spite of his claim that Israel “surpasses Hitler in barbarism,” he denies accusations of anti-Semitism.
Despite those denials, Erdogan has a long record of anti-Semitic statements. In 1998, prior to his stint as PM, Erdogan – then mayor of Istanbul – infamously declared that “the Jews have begun to crush the Muslims in Palestine, in the name of Zionism. Today, the image of the Jews is no different than that of the Nazis.”
There has been an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Turkey in recent weeks, fuelled by angry anti-Israel rhetoric.
Earlier this month, the mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara – and a close ally of Erdogan – threw his support behind a high-profile Turkish pop singer who praised Hitler and posted a slew of other anti-Semitic messages on Twitter.
More recently, anti-Israel campaigners called for a boycott of a popular Turkish author, purely due to the fact that he was Jewish.
Erdogan’s own anti-Israel statements have dimmed the prospects of rebuilding of relations between the two countries – which particularly soured in the aftermath of the infamous “Mavi Marmara” flotilla incident in 2010.
Erdogan has in the past accused Israel of leading a “conspiracy” to overthrow his government and in a recent heated exchange with a Turkish opposition activist referred to his opponent as “Israeli sperm.”