Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “tyrant” who “massacred” Palestinian children, as the two leaders exchanged insults in their latest spat.
Erdogan was responding to comments from Netanyahu slamming the Turkish leader as a “dictator” and “a joke,” after a day of tit-for-tat exchanges between officials in both countries.
Turkey and Israel have tense relations and Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is a vocal critic of Israeli policies. The two leaders have exchanged barbs in the past over Gaza.
“Hey Netanyahu, behave yourself. You are a tyrant, you are a tyrant who massacred seven-year-old Palestinian children,” Erdogan told a rally of supporters in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
Erdogan also referred to clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, denouncing Israeli security forces for entering the Temple Mount.
“Do not provoke,” he continued, before launching into what could be interpreted as an implicit threat against the Jewish community of Turkey. “Look, we have not oppressed any of the Jews in this country. We have not done anything you did to any synagogues here. Don’t provoke us. We will not fall into this trap.”
The latest exchange came after Netanyahu had called Israel the nation-state of “the Jewish people” only, not all its citizens. That prompted Turkey on Tuesday to accuse the Israeli leader of “blatant racism.”
Netanyahu struck back in a statement from his office later that day. “Turkey’s dictator Erdogan attacks Israel’s democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons,” it read. “What a joke!”
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin was swift to respond on Twitter, accusing Netanyahu of attacking Erdogan “for exposing him” after the premier’s “racist remarks” toward Arabs and Muslims.
“The apartheid state he leads occupies Palestinian lands, kills women and children and imprisons Palestinians in their own land,” he wrote.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu again blasted Erdogan in response to his latest barb, accusing the Turkish leader of committing genocide against Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
“Erdogan, a dictator who has imprisoned tens of thousands of his political opponents, is committing genocide against the Kurds and occupies northern Cyprus, is preaching to me, Israel and the IDF about democracy and the ethics of war,” he said in a statement. “Erdgoan should learn from us how to respect all religions and uphold human rights.”
Israel and Turkey in 2016 formally ended a six-year diplomatic rift that ensued when 10 Turkish activists were killed in a violent confrontation with Israeli commandos aboard a ship, the Mavi Marmara, that aimed to break the naval blockade on Gaza. Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent the import of weapons by the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonizing Israeli Arabs, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April 9 elections.
After the polls, Netanyahu will also face a hearing to defend himself against corruption allegations that have dogged his campaign.
“That robber at the helm of Israel is currently on trial in his country,” Erdogan also said, referring to the prime minister.
Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister MK Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu’s initial comment had come amid an online spat sparked by firebrand Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev ahead of the elections and subsequently joined by Israeli Hollywood star Gal Gadot.
Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, had in a TV interview warned voters not to support its main rival because it would ally with Arab Israeli parties — a highly unlikely scenario.
Israeli model and actress Rotem Sela responded on Instagram, asking: “When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal?”
Netanyahu reacted with his own Instagram post, telling Sela: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.”
“According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it,” he said, referring to a deeply controversial piece of legislation passed by his government last year.
Gadot, star of “Wonder Woman,” jumped to Sela’s defense.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Gadot wrote on Instagram late Sunday.
“This isn’t a matter of right or left. Jew or Arab. Secular or religious,” she added. “It’s a matter of dialogue, of dialogue for peace and security and of our tolerance of one towards the other.”