ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday compared Israel’s actions against the Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazi genocide of the Jews in World War II.
“There is no difference between the atrocity faced by the Jewish people in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality that our Gaza brothers are subjected to,” he told a summit of Islamic leaders in Istanbul.
Erdogan, who supports the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, has long been one of the fiercest critics of Israel and has raised the level of rhetoric in recent weeks. On Friday he also organized tens of thousands to rally against Israel in Istanbul.
He added that the leadership of a people “who were subjected to all kinds of torture in the concentration camps during World War II is attacking the Palestinians with methods similar to the Nazis.”
“I will say openly and clearly that what Israel is doing is banditry, brutality and state terror,” he said.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II in the Holocaust, many perishing in gas chambers and death camps.
Erdogan had earlier told a mass rally in Istanbul that as the victims of the Holocaust, the Jewish people of Israel should stop their government’s actions against the Palestinians.
“We believe a people who were victims of the Holocaust will not give consent to the crime against humanity committed by their own state,” he said.
Large crowds thronged the massive Yenikapi meeting area on the shores of the sea of Marmara under the slogan “Curse the oppression, support Jerusalem,” ahead of an address later in the day by Erdogan.
Demonstrators held Palestinian and Turkish flags and brandished slogans including “Jerusalem is our red line.”
We are calling on the world and say ‘Israel, America and Zionism, you all dragged humanity into chaos’,” said protester Levent Ayaz.
“With God’s permission, Jerusalem belongs to us and is the capital of Islam as long as this ummah (Islamic community) exists,” he added.
Erdogan is hosting for the second time in half a year a summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic group seeking to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after deadly clashes at the Gaza border Monday in which some 60 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire.
Many in the international community have criticized Israel for the deaths, while the IDF and Hamas have both noted that many of the dead were members of Gazan terror groups. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said Wednesday that 50 of the fatalities were Hamas members.
Erdogan, who is in the middle of an election campaign in Turkey, has reacted with unbridled fury to the deaths, accusing Israel of “genocide,” calling it a “terror state,” and saying it was run as an “apartheid state.”
His comments sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel.
Erdogan has already hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December last year to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
He vowed that Friday’s summit would send a “strong message to the world” over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
However, as in the 2017 meeting, disputes between the OIC’s key players — notably between Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — may prevent the adoption of any measures going beyond harsh rhetoric.
Riyadh — which appears to have softened its stance on Israel amid its regional power struggle with Iran and as the influence of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has grown — and its allies fear alienating the United States with tough measures against Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s chief foreign policy preoccupation, shared with Israel, is ensuring US backing to contain Iran which both Riyadh and the Jewish state see as the main threat to regional peace.
‘Dragged into chaos’
After only declaring his intention to hold the event on Monday, Erdogan managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice in intense phone diplomacy.
Jordanian King Abdullah II was present. The Palestinians were represented by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and not President Mahmoud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear.
From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.
As in the November 2017 meeting, a controversial guest was Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Egypt and Saudi Arabia distrust Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complicating any effort to take concrete measures against Israel.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir were also at the Istanbul summit. The Saudi level of representation is higher than at the November meeting.
Erdogan has long craved a role as a Muslim leader within the entire Islamic world, rarely holding back with tirades against Israel even though Ankara has diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
“If the silence on Israel’s tyranny continues, the world will rapidly be dragged into a chaos where banditry prevails,” Erdogan said Wednesday.
‘Stop the oppression’
Tensions with Israel and hosting such a meeting also does Erdogan no harm with his core supporters as Turkey heads to presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24.
In a diplomatic crisis threatening a 2016 deal that allowed the resumption of full ties, Turkey has ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave for an unspecified period of time.
Turkey had already withdrawn its Tel Aviv ambassador for consultations while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave, also for an unspecified period of time.
Erdogan has engaged in a bitter Twitter spat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of support Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.