Erdogan to meet Armenian, Jewish leaders in US

On sidelines of UNGA, Turkish president to speak with committee from World Jewish Congress headed by Ron Lauder

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to meet with Jewish and Armenian leaders in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

During his trip to New York, Erdogan is set to meet with committee from the World Jewish Congress led by Ron Lauder, the Daily Sabah reported Sunday, as well as with Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the primate of Diocese of Armenian Church of America, and the president of the Fund for Armenian Relief.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power for the past 12 years, has largely been perceived as being anti-Israel and as harboring anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan himself has been criticized for making statements over the years that were perceived to be anti-Semitic.

The Turkish president was heavily criticized this summer for a spate of remarks he made about Israel, claiming that “[Israelis] have no conscience, no honor, no pride. Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”

In July, a Jewish American group asked Erdogan to return an award it gave him in 2004, accusing the Turkish leader of “dangerous rhetoric” and “inciting violence against the Jewish people.”

Although Erdogan has called on his countrymen to not carry out attacks on the country’s approximately 20,000 Jews, a Jewish couple was murdered in August in what was believed to be a hate crime, amid reports of rampant anti-Semitism.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies. However diplomatic relations dramatically cooled after the 2009 Gaza conflict (known as Operation Cast Lead) and the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident in which the Mavi Marmara was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed; 10 Israeli soldiers were injured.

Erdogan has routinely cited the incident as a crutch between the two states and frequently criticizes Jerusalem for its dealings with the Palestinians.

Relations were once again on the mend recently, but this progress was halted by July and August’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. During the conflict the Turkish president threatened to cancel the normalization of ties between the two countries. However, he did publicly meet with an Israeli official last month for the first time in six years.

Earlier this month, just days after an open-ended ceasefire was agreed to between Israel and Gaza terror groups after 50 days of fighting, a group of Turkish-Jewish intellectuals wrote in an open letter that Jews in Turkey were under no obligation to comment on Israel’s operation in Gaza

The letter was in response to calls for the Jewish community to denounce the operation, as well as a campaign claiming the Jews of Turkey are responsible for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement,” the intellectuals wrote. “There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

“It is racism to hold a whole people responsible for the actions of a state and we wish to declare that we are opposed to this.”

The letter also pointed out that it is not possible for a community of 20,000 to hold a unified opinion.

At the end of July, Erdogan pledged to keep Turkey’s Jewish community safe, but urged the Jewish community to denounce Israel.

Justin Jalil contributed to this report.

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