Israel, Turkey Continue War of Words: 'The Days of the Ottoman Empire Have Passed'

After Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman calls Erdogan's comments on Temple Mount 'unfounded,' Turkish counterpart points to 50 years of 'East Jerusalem occupation'

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2017.
Handout/AFP, Olivier Fitoussi

The war of words between Israel and Turkey continued Wednesday as Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman responded to a statement published earlier in the day by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The Turkish statement criticized Israel's response to comments made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday over the Temple Mount crisis.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon had described Erdogan’s claim that Israel was trying to take the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Muslims under the guise of fighting terrorism as “wacky, unfounded and distorted.” Nahshon added that "the days of the Ottoman Empire are long gone."

Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu responded Wednesday by stating: “As the Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza completed its 50th year, it is clear that the efforts to disregard the fact that East Jerusalem is under occupation will not contribute to the attainment of peace and stability in the region as well as the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Muslim worshipers argue with Israeli police forces outside the Lions Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, near the Temple Mount, July 20, 2017.
Emil Salman

In response, Nahschon shot back "The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. It’s absurd that the Turkish government, which occupies Northern Cyprus, brutally represses the Kurdish minority and jails journalists, lectures Israel, the only true democracy in the region."

The Turkish statement noted that under Ottoman rule, members of various religions were able to live in peace and were free to worship their god of choice.

“In this context, Jews would be expected to know best and appreciate the unique tolerance during the Ottoman era. Today, in the Republic of Turkey, freedom of faith and worship are also safeguarded by the state,” Muftuoglu said.

Referring to the crisis that erupted between Israel and the Palestinians after Israeli forces installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount, Muftuoglu added that “the responsibility that rests with Israel is to urgently make common sense prevail, go back to the status quo at Haram al-Sharif and lift all the restrictions on the freedom of worship.” Haram al-Sharif is the term often used by Muslims for the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the surrounding compound.

Earlier Wednesday, Erdogan said that while Israel had made the right decision to remove the metal detectors, the measure was insufficient. "We refuse to be silent about the situation at Al-Aqsa Mosque," Erdogan said.

Israel made the decision to install the metal detectors at the entrances to the site as a security measure following an attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli policemen.

As an act of civil protest, Palestinian worshippers refused to walk through the metal detectors, and over the course of the following week held their prayers outside the Temple Mount compound instead. The government resisted the pressure and clashes erupted between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, with tensions echoing throughout the Arab world.