President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday rebuked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his diatribe on the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, noting that the city has had a Jewish majority for over 150 years, including under Ottoman rule.
On Monday evening, Erdogan in a speech called Israel “racist and discriminatory” said he would not allow the Knesset to outlaw the muezzin’s call to prayer (a reference to a bill that would muffle the prayer call at certain hours), and urged Muslims to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount en masse in solidarity with the Palestinians. “Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us,” he also said, at the opening ceremony of the International Forum on al-Quds Waqf in Istanbul.
Later on Monday, Erdogan discussed ways to halt the so-called “Judaization” of Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. At a meeting in Istanbul the Turkish leader “confirmed the necessity of unifying efforts to protect Jerusalem against attempts of Judaization,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
“We have heard voices which attack Israel for building Jewish life in Jerusalem,” the president said in response on Tuesday.
“I must tell these people, for the last 150 years there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Even under the Ottoman Empire there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem,” said Rivlin, whose family has lived in Jerusalem since 1809.
Modern Turkey is the successor of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Holy Land from the late 15th century until 1917.
“Under Israeli sovereignty we continue to build Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Rivlin added, during a meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in Jerusalem. “There is no doubt, Jerusalem is a microcosm, of our ability to live together. And we will continue to ensure freedom of religion for all faiths.”
At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem earlier on Tuesday telephoned Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem for a “clarification conversation,” the ministry said, in the first major confrontation since the two countries re-established ties last year.
Rotem’s message echoed a statement the ministry had published on Monday evening, the ministry said.
“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” Monday’s statement read. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”
Erdogan’s comments elicited a host of angry responses from Israeli politicians.
His words have no basis in reality, said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “Unfortunately, his statements on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount kindles a fire that hurts the security of Jerusalem residents and visitors,” he said. As opposed to other parts of the Middle East, Israel safeguards the right to worship and free access to the holy places to all religions, he added.
“Erdogan’s grave words of incitement will not change the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, and the capital of Israel,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely tweeted. The Temple Mount will remain open to all religions but “under Israeli sovereignty,” she added.
“It is surprising that Erdogan, who leads a state that occupied Jerusalem for 400 years, wants to preach to us about how to manage our city,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
“Unlike during the Turkish occupation, Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is a flourishing, open and free city that allows freedom of religion and worship for all. In recent years, record numbers of Muslims have visited the Temple Mount and held prayers, exercising their absolute freedom of religion under Israeli sovereignty.”
The Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem is 3,000 years old, Barkat said, adding that Jewish roots can be seen “in every corner of the city.”
Added Barkat: “As we celebrate 50 years of reunited Jerusalem, I invite Erdogan to visit our city and to be amazed by the situation on the ground — a situation that has changed only for the better since the Turks ruled here.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.