In Berlin, Erdogan says Germany can’t criticize Israel because of the Holocaust

Leaders spar with each other over Israel-Hamas war; Scholz says terror group cannot be allowed to continue to attack Israel from Gaza

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talk to the media at a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talk to the media at a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN — Visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday aired deep differences over the war between Israel and Hamas as the Turkish leader insinuated that Berlin was unable to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust.

Erdogan was invited to visit Germany months ago after his reelection, but recent weeks have been marked by discomfort in Berlin over his increasingly strident stance against Israel.

Turkey has long been viewed as an awkward but essential partner in Germany, home to more than 3 million people with Turkish roots. It’s a NATO ally that also is important in efforts to control the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe, an issue on which Scholz faces intense domestic pressure, but there have been frequent tensions in recent years.

Most recently, a chasm has opened between the countries’ stances on events following Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel that killed more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw some 240 taken hostage in Gaza.

Germany is a staunch ally of Israel and has opposed calls for a ceasefire, while pushing for aid to civilians in Gaza, advocating “humanitarian pauses” and seeking to keep open channels of communication with other countries in the region to prevent the conflict spreading.

Erdogan this week called Israel a “terrorist state” intent on destroying Gaza with all of its residents. He described Hamas terrorists as “resistance fighters” trying to protect their lands and people. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Israeli soldiers around the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Those and similar comments have appalled politicians across the spectrum in Germany. Scholz has described Erdogan’s accusations against Israel as “absurd.”

“It’s no secret that we have, in parts, very different views on the current conflict,” Scholz said at a brief news conference alongside Erdogan before their talks. But “particularly at difficult moments, we need to speak directly to each other.”

“Hamas’s attack means that Israel must protect itself and must be able to defend itself,” he said. “It cannot remain the case that a terror organization that rules this region undertakes such activities from there again and again with unbelievable military force. That must end, and that is an aim that one must support — we do, in any case.”

At the same time, Scholz said it is important to “do everything to keep the number of civilian victims as small as possible,” and stressed that “the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza also depresses us.”

Scholz said that Turkey and Germany share fears of a wider “conflagration” in the region and would discuss how to prevent one.

While Scholz again advocated repeated “pauses” in the fighting, Erdogan said: “If we can establish a humanitarian ceasefire together with Germany, we will have the opportunity to save the region from this ring of fire.”

“As of now, 13,000 Palestinian children, women and elderly have been killed,” he said. “There is almost no place named Gaza anymore, everything has been destroyed.”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that some 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Israeli soldiers at the Al-Shati camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, November 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Erdogan suggested that Germany was unable to criticize Israel because of the Holocaust.

“I speak freely because we do not owe Israel anything. If we were indebted, we could not talk so freely,” he said. “Those who are indebted cannot talk freely. We did not go through the Holocaust, and we are not in such a situation.”

He also claimed Israel’s actions were against Judaism.

“Shooting hospitals or killing children does not exist in the Torah, you can’t do it,” he said.

Erdogan also denied that his attacks against Israel were antisemitic.

“For us, there should be no discrimination between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the region. I have fought against antisemitism,” Erdogan said during a joint media appearance with Scholz.

“I am a leader who is leading this fight.”

Israel recalled its diplomats from Turkey last month after Erdogan accused Israel of committing war crimes. Turkey later also recalled its ambassador from Israel.

Another possible source of tension emerged ahead of Friday’s visit when Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler said Turkey plans to purchase 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, but Germany was impeding the sale of the warplanes produced by Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy.

Guler told members of the Turkish parliament’s defense committee that Spain and the UK favored selling the jets to Turkey and were working to persuade Germany.

“Germany can sell them or not sell them,” Erdogan said Friday. “Is Germany the only country that produces warplanes? We can procure these from many other places.”

Scholz didn’t address the issue, and other German officials had no immediate comment.

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