Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday described Zionism as a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism.

Speaking in Vienna at a United Nations event devoted to dialogue between the West and Islam, Erdogan decried rising racism in Europe and the fact that many Muslims “who live in countries other than their own” often face harsh discrimination.

“We should be striving to better understand the culture and beliefs of others, but instead we see that people act based on prejudice and exclude others and despise them,” Erdogan said, according to a simultaneous translation provided by the UN. “And that is why it is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

The Turkish leader’s comments, made at the official opening of the fifth UN Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum, drew harsh criticism from UN Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog group monitoring anti-Israel bias and human rights abuses at the organization.

“Erdogan’s misuse of this global podium to incite hatred, and his resort to Ahmadinejad-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,” UN Watch said in a statement.

The group also criticized UN chief Ban Ki-moon — “who was present on the stage yet stayed silent” — for not condemning Erdogan’s remarks.

“We remind Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that his predecessor Kofi Annan recognized that the UN’s 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution was an expression of anti-Semitism, and he welcomed its repeal,” the statement said.

UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which was adopted by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), stated that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Due to US pressure, it was revoked in 1991.

Israel and Turkey enjoyed close diplomatic and business relations for years until a gradual deterioration accelerated due to the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops aboard the Mavi Marmara ship resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens and injuries to several Israeli soldiers.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have since remained sour, with Turkey demanding an apology, and compensation for the families of those killed, as prerequisites for the renewal of ties.