Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on March 1 offensively equated Zionism to racism and fascism at the “Fifth Alliance of Civilizations Forum” in Vienna. During the forum, Erdoğan reportedly stated:
“Just like Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it becomes unavoidable that Islamophobia must be regarded as a crime against humanity.”
Erdogan’s decision to refer to Zionism, which is the foundation of the Jewish state and the movement of Jewish self-determination, as a “crime against humanity” is inflammatory, wrong and dangerous. It was also appalling that Erdoğan exploited a United Nations conference devoted to improving understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions, to effectively promote hostility towards the very existence of Israel – a United Nations member since 1949.
But the strangest thing about the whole affair is that, if you look closely at what Erdogan said, he effectively damned himself.
Erdogan’s remarks have elicited no response to date from heads of state and other dignitaries participating in the forum. The silence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on this issue stood in contrast to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who welcomed the repeal of resolution 3379 passed in 1975 by UN General Assembly, sponsored by the Soviet-Arab bloc, that equated Zionism with racism, and effectively admitted in 2004 that the resolution had amounted to an expression of antisemitism. In 1991, 111 nations voted to repeal resolution 3379 recognising that it was antisemitic. Australia, under former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, was a leader of the fight to repeal resolution 3379 following the passage of a motion in Federal parliament recognising that resolution 3379 was inconsistent with the UN’s goals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Erdogan’s offensive speech: “This is a dark and false pronouncement the likes of which we thought had passed into history”. The White House also condemned the remarks: “We reject Prime Minister Erdogan’s characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong… We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times.”
Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, said Erdogan’s comments amounted to antisemitism:
“This is an ignorant and hateful attack on the Jewish people and against a movement with peace at its core, which relegates Prime Minster Erdogan to the level of [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, to Soviet leaders who used anti-Zionism as a euphemism for anti-Semitism… The irony of these comments will not be lost on the families of those slaughtered during the Armenian genocide, a crime still not recognized by the Turkish government.”
Erdogan’s remarks align with a pattern of verbal assaults on Israel by Turkish leaders. For example, recently the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticised Syrian President Bashar Assad for not responding to an alleged Israeli strike on targets in Syria and said:
“Is there a secret agreement between Assad and Israel? The Assad regime only abuses. Why don’t you use the same power that you use against defenseless women against Israel, which you have seen as an enemy since its foundation.”
Under Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has adopted a frosty approach to Israel, reversing the attitude of previous Turkish governments. Recently, there have been a number of reports about efforts to repair relations, which deteriorated in 2010 following the flotilla incident. However, Erdogan’s provocative comments apparently indicate that he has no interest in mending the relationship with Israel. As UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer commented:
“Erdogan’s misuse of this global podium to incite hatred, and his resort to Ahmandinejad-style pronouncements appealing to the lowest common denominator in the Muslim world … will only strengthen the belief that his government is hewing to a confrontational stance, and fundamentally unwilling to end its four-year-old feud with Israel.”
A concluding point to note about Erdogan’s speech is its extreme, self-refuting hypocrisy. In his speech, Erdogan condemns antisemitism as also a “crime against humanity” yet as Kofi Annan and others have noted, referring to Zionism as a form of racism is an expression of antisemitism. Therefore Erdogan in effect condemned his own statement and according to the criteria he himself enunciated, he appears to have just committed a “crime against humanity.”