President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey’s relationship with Israel is “vital for the stability of our region” during a Wednesday meeting with Jewish leaders from Turkey and other countries in the Middle East.
“We must all work together to strengthen peace and stability in the Middle East,” Erdogan stated at a meeting with members of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, including Iranian Chief Rabbi Yosef Cohen, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported.
"We are ready to improve our cooperation and make better use of our potential," the president was quoted as saying. "I attach importance to maintaining contact and dialogue."
Erdogan elaborated on key differences Israel and Turkey have on Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and its effect on security and stability in the region.
“Despite our differences of opinion on Palestine, our relations with Israel in the fields of economy, trade and tourism are progressing. Israel's constructive and sincere attitude in the context of peace efforts will contribute to the normalization process,” he said.
Erdogan also described his country as a refuge, stating that “our lands have historically been a haven for Jews who have been persecuted in different parts of the world,” and described antisemitism as “a crime against humanity” comparable to Islamophobia.
Despite the president's remarks, a 2015 study by the Hrant Dink Foundation found that over half of biased statements in Turkish media during that summer were against Jews. Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, conspiracy theories regarding Jewish and Israeli responsibility for the coronavirus proliferated on television and social media.
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“A slow but steady wave of emigration from Turkey has been part of the Jewish community's life, thus the community is shrinking with each passing year,” Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry Center stated in its 2018 annual report. “With the rise of violence and antisemitism, many are considering leaving the country.”
Turkish politicians and media have expressed antisemitic sentiments over the years, the Kantor Center noted in its report, stating that the local Jewish community “faces antisemitic manifestations on an almost daily basis in the media, especially by nationalist and Islamist national and local newspapers.”
JTA contributed to this report