Erdogan tells visiting rabbis ties with Israel are ‘vital’ for regional stability

Turkish leader once again speaks of his desire to mend relations with Jewish state, says antisemitism is ‘a crime against humanity’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) is presented with a silver Menorah during a meeting with a delegation of Jewish leaders in Ankara, December 22, 2021 (video screenshot)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) is presented with a silver Menorah during a meeting with a delegation of Jewish leaders in Ankara, December 22, 2021 (video screenshot)

Meeting with a delegation of Jewish leaders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that relations with Israel were “vital for the security and stability of the region” and spoke optimistically about the potential for improving relations.

The Turkish leader met with Turkish rabbis as well as members of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States and was presented with a gift of a silver Menorah.

According to Turkey’s Hurriyet and other media outlets, Erdogan spoke out against “inhuman ideas such as racism, antisemitism, intolerance to people from different religions,” while calling both antisemitism and hostility toward Islam “a crime against humanity.”

He said that despite differences with Israel over its policies toward Palestinians, “our relations with Israel in the fields of economy, trade and tourism are progressing in their own way.”

The Turkish president welcomed recent dialogue with President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while saying a sincere Israeli effort to advance peace with the Palestinians “will undoubtedly contribute to the normalization process” between Ankara and Jerusalem.

“Turkey-Israel relations are vital for the security and stability of the region. We are ready to improve our relations,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan has recently shifted to a more positive tone toward Israel, saying on several occasions that he would like to improve ties after years of acrimony.

Earlier this month he said he was open to improved relations, but that the country must first display “more sensitive” policies toward Palestinians. Erdogan told a group of journalists in Qatar that better ties with Israel would be “beneficial” for peace in the wider region.

He said he has “had talks with Israel in the past” and offered that Turkey is prepared to mutually re-appoint envoys with the Jewish state under the right circumstances.

Once robust regional allies, relations between Israel and Turkey have frayed throughout Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel, for its part, is upset by Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that broke an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those onboard a Turkish ferry boat violently resisted the Israeli action resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.

Relations slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its ambassador from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

In a sign of improving ties, however, Erdogan has recently held telephone calls with Herzog as well as with Bennett — during which the new Israeli prime minister thanked the Turkish leader for his role in the release of an Israeli couple who were arrested in Istanbul on suspicion of spying.

The steps toward a rapprochement with Israel comes as Turkey has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing its troubled ties with several countries in the region, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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