U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday waded into the controversy over comments by Turkey’s prime minister equating Zionism with a crime against humanity, rebuking the leader of the NATO ally by saying such remarks complicate Middle East peace efforts.
Kerry said the Obama administration found the statements by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “objectionable,” and he stressed the “urgent need to promote a spirit of tolerance, and that includes all of the public statements made by all leaders” at a news conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Kerry added that he had raised the issue with Davutoglu “very directly” and said he would do the same with Erdogan.
Davutoglu, however, did not acknowledge the U.S. complaint and denied that any Turkish official had made hostile or offensive comments about Israel. Instead, he blamed Israel for acting in a hostile way toward Turkey. He repeatedly referred to the deaths of nine civilians at the hands of Israeli commandos aboard a Gaza flotilla vessel in 2010.
“If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey, it needs to review its attitude … toward us, and it needs to review its attitude toward the people in the region and especially the [Palestinian] issue,” he said.
Asked for his reaction to Davutoglu’s remarks, Kerry replied that they demonstrated the difficulty of dealing with such an emotional situation.
Addressing the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations conference in Vienna this week, Erdogan complained of prejudices against Muslims. He said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity, “just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and like fascism.”
The White House rejected the comparison on Thursday, calling it “offensive and wrong.” A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry said comments like Erdogan’s are “corrosive” to U.S.-Turkey relations and damaging to regional and international stability.
Kerry said he believes there is a way to repair the damage, but he added, “It obviously gets more complicated in the aftermath of a speech such as the one we heard in Vienna.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also sharply condemned the remark late Thursday, calling it a “dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon joined the critics, saying it was “unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership.”