Erdogan slams Netanyahu’s ‘blatant racism’ toward Arab Israelis

Erdogan slams Netanyahu’s ‘blatant racism’ toward Arab Israelis

Amid furor over PM’s comment that Israel ‘not a state of all its citizens,’ Turkey’s Islamist leader weighs in, calls on West to respond

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen in a combination of photos. (Ronen Zvulun and Ozan Kose/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seen in a combination of photos. (Ronen Zvulun and Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkey on Tuesday denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “blatant racism” after he called Israel the nation-state of “the Jewish people” only, not of all its citizens.

Turkey and Israel’s relations have long been tense, with Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, a vocal critic of Israeli policies.

“I strongly condemn this blatant racism and discrimination,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on his official Twitter account both in Turkish and English.

“1.6 million Arabs/Muslims live in Israel. Will the Western governments react or keep silent under pressure again?” he asked.

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 come under harsh criticism in Israel amid accusations that he is using anti-Arab rhetoric as part of his election campaign. On Sunday, he responded to TV personality Rotem Sela’s complaint over the issue by saying that legislation passed last year enshrined Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people alone.”

On Monday, Netanyahu appeared to suggest that Israel’s Arab citizens had more affiliation with other Arab states around the region than with Israel.

“The Arab citizens have 22 nation states around them and they do not need another. We define Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, the nation-state of the Jewish people, with equal rights for all,” he said on party webcast Likud TV when asked about how the controversial law impacts Arab and Druze citizens of Israel.

Netanyahu said Monday that the legislation “does not relate to the rights of the individual, because there are equal rights for all. The Basic Law deals only with fundamental questions of the rights of the Jewish people, a blue-and-white flag, the Hatikva [national anthem] and so on.”

The discussion over the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, which passed in July, was rekindled over the weekend, after Sela, a popular model and television host, blasted Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) for claiming that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White party wants to establish a government with the help of Arab parties.

TV host, model and actress Rotem Sela. (CC-BY-SA-4.0 דבש סדן/Wikipedia)

“What is the problem with the Arabs???” Sela wrote on her Instagram account. “Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country. 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, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human.”

Netanyahu unexpectedly responded to her post with “an important correction,” saying that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens” but the nation-state of the Jewish people only.

Actress Gal Gadot, who famously plays Wonder Woman in the cinematic adaptation of the DC comic books, was among those who came to Sela’s defense.

Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonizing Arab Israelis, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April elections.

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