Erdogan Blasts Israel, Calls on Muslims to Visit Al-Aqsa: Each Day Jerusalem Is Occupied Is Insult

Erdogan says Trump shouldn't move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem ■ Compares Israeli policies to apartheid ■ Israel: Human rights violators shouldn't lecture others

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Istanbul on May 4, 2017.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Istanbul on May 4, 2017. OZAN KOSE/AFP

Israel and Turkey clashed Monday in the most serious incident since the two countries signed a rapprochement agreement in 2016. After Turkish President Erdogan verbally lashed out at Israel's policy in the West Bank and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel responded in an unprecedented manner, accusing the Turkish president of being a serial human rights violator.

Erdogan, who was speaking a conference on Jerusalem in Istanbul, called on Turks and Muslims across the world to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque and voice support of the Palestinian struggle. He said Turkey backs Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and attributes significant importance to it.

"As a Muslim community, we need to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque often, each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us," Erdogan said in his speech.

Erdogan also said that Israel's policy toward the Palestinians in the West Bank is racist, discriminatory and reminiscent of apartheid.

"What's the difference between the present acts of the Israeli administration and the racist and discriminatory politics that were practiced against black people in the past in America and up until a short time ago in South Africa?" he asked.

The Turkish president also warned the United States not to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He claimed that it would be "extremely ill-advised" and said the move should be abandoned.

"It is not a simple location change. Those who think that way are not aware of how delicate the balance is in the Holy Land," he said.

Erdogan also blasted a new law that passed in the Knesset two months ago which would restrict the Muslim call to prayer – or muezzin – saying it infringes on religious freedom.

"Why are they afraid of the call to prayer? Are they unsure of their own fate? We do not and will not treat our Jewish citizens like that," he asked, saying "we won't allow the muezzin on Al-Aqsa to be silenced."

'Baseless slander'

Initially, the Prime Minister's Bureau was considering not publically responding to Erdogan's statements, but after his comments were widely reported on in Israeli and international media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry otherwise.

The response, unprecedented in its severity, took aim at Erdogan personally. "Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not lecture and take the moral high ground over the region's sole real democracy," Emanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said.

"Israel is unequivocally dedicated to preserving religious freedom for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so despite this baseless slander," he said. 

Last July, Israel and Turkey signed a rapprochement agreement that ended the diplomatic crisis the broke out between the two countries in May 2010 following the Turkish flotilla to Gaza. The two continues thawed their diplomatic ties and appointed ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Anakra after five years of only low-level communications.

Since the agreement was signed in 2016, Turkey has not avoided voicing criticism of Israel's policy towards Palestinians, but Erdogan did hold back his verbal outburst at Israel.

This is the first time in which Erdogan has returned to lashing out at Israel with vehement criticism, reminiscent of the period the two countries ties were at a low. A senior Israeli official noted that at this stage Israel will make do with the response statement to prevent the tensions from escalating into a crisis in the already-sensitive ties with Turkey.