Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday claimed “Jews in Israel” beat Palestinian woman and children, in a fresh broadside against the Jewish state by the firebrand Turkish leader.
Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas, has long been a harsh critic of Israel and regularly likens its actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians to the mass Nazi murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
“The Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men but also women and children when they fall on the ground,” he told young Turks at an Istanbul meeting of the Turkey Youth Foundation.
“But as Muslims, will confront these people [the Jews] if they have courage to deal with us and we’ll teach them a lesson,” Erdogan added.
Erdogan has previously denied being anti-Semitic when leveling similar criticism of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later hit back at Erdogan, issuing blistering criticism of Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and the Turkish military’s treatment of the country’s Kurdish minority as well as Kurds in neighboring Syria.
“Erdogan – the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey – should not preach to Israel,” the prime minister said in a statement.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who has called on the government to adopt a more aggressive stance toward Turkey, branded Erdogan an anti-Semite following the Turkish leader’s remarks.
“Jews don’t kick people but the time has come for the Jews to kick Erdogan and tell him we won’t be silent for anti-Semites like him,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
Israel-Turkey relations have long been tense but reached a new nadir in May in the aftermath of Israel’s response to violent protests on the Gaza border that were inspired by Hamas, and during which dozens of Palestinians were killed.
At the time, Erdogan placed the blame for the Gaza deaths squarely on Israel, accusing it of being a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.” Then too, Erdogan compared Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis.
Turkey later recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelled Israel’s envoys to Ankara and Istanbul.
Israel responded in kind, with Netanyahu saying Erdogan “well understands terrorism and slaughter” and should not lecture Israel about military ethics.
Israel expelled Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem, who represents Ankara to the Palestinians, while Turkey threatened to sue the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Despite reports about Israeli-Turkish back channel talks trying to restore diplomatic relations, none of the envoys who were recalled have returned to their respective postings.
Erdogan’s latest diatribe against Israel comes just days after US President Donald Trump abruptly announced he would withdraw all American troops from Turkey, a decision The Associated Press reported he made during a phone call with the Turkish leader.
Trump said the roughly 2,000 US soldiers in Syria would be withdrawn as the Islamic State jihadist group had been “beaten,” a claim met with skepticism by many lawmakers and analysts.
Washington’s decision not only has ramifications for the Kurds, who are being trained by US forces, but also for Turkey’s actions in Syria.
In the wake of the announcement, Erdogan on Friday vowed to drive out a US-backed Kurdish militia and jihadists from Syria as Kurdish forces there warned that any attack by Ankara could seriously undermine the fight against the Islamic State.
Erdogan suggested Turkey could launch an operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara says is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
“In the coming months we will see an operation aimed at removing the YPG and Daesh (Islamic State) elements on the ground in Syria,” he said in Istanbul.
Erdogan welcomed Trump’s withdrawal decision but said he remained “cautious” because of “past negative experiences,” referring to Ankara’s continued disappointment over the US administration’s failure to stop providing military support to the YPG.
Trump’s declaration has been met with profound concern in Israel, with the US presence in Syria seen as a barrier to Iran’s military efforts there.
Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years of Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside Russia and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
For Israel, the pullout leaves it without a staunch ally in the fight against Iran in Syria and also potentially opens the door for the Islamic Republic to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
Until now, American troops have been stationed in northeastern Syria, along the Iraqi border, blocking such a corridor, through which Iran could more easily distribute advanced weapons and technology throughout the region, especially to its Lebanese client the Hezbollah terrorist army.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.