Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his February statement that Zionism is a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism was misunderstood, according to an AFP report.

Erdogan, speaking to a Danish newspaper, said that he knew his statements caused “some debate” but that “no one should misunderstand what I said.”

He said “everyone should know” that his comments were directed at “Israeli policies,” especially as regards to “Gaza and the settlements.”

“It’s entirely natural for us to continue to criticize Israel as long as it will not give up its approach of denying the right to exist of the Palestinian state,” Erdogan added. “In several statements I openly condemned anti-Semitism, and it clearly displays my position on this issue.”

In late February, 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.”

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 warming of ties.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.