Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Thursday said Israel would not sever ties with Turkey despite a searing rift over Gaza. This as Israeli ministers and officials slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “disgusting,” a “dictator” and a “neo-fascist” who is leading his country to “insane extremism,” and even urged Israelis not to visit the country.
“The decision reached by the Foreign Ministry after much deliberation — and of course Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was part of it — is that we do not intend to cut ties with Turkey,” Hotovely told public broadcaster Kan.
Israel and Turkey are involved in an ongoing tit-for-tat dispute over Israel’s response to Monday’s violent protests at the Gaza border.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 62 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 more injured in border clashes this week. The IDF said Tuesday that at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Those two terror groups subsequently acknowledged 53 of their members were among the dead. Israel claims that Hamas is spurring the violence and using it as cover for attacks.
“Turkey is an important state in the region, and even though its leader made very grave remarks against Israel’s leadership and its actions, I think we repaid him in kind,” she added. “We said that a dictator like him who spills blood and behaves in such a cruel manner cannot lecture us.”
Erdogan placed the blame for the Gaza deaths squarely on Israel, accusing it of being a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.” Turkey recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelled Israel’s envoys to Ankara and Istanbul.
Israel responded in kind, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Erdogan “well understands terrorism and slaughter” and should not preach to Israel over military ethics.
Israel expelled Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem and, on Wednesday, summoned the country’s deputy ambassador in Tel Aviv for a dressing down.
“When we have relations with Turkey, it’s not out of fondness and friendship,” Hotovely explained. “It’s about very important interests in the region. Turkey is a key state, all our aerial routes go through it, there are very deep trade relations, totaling NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion) per year.”
She also cited the large Jewish community in Turkey as a reason to preserve relations with Ankara.
Hotovely said she believes the expelled ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, will be back in office soon, adding that it was also in Turkey’s interest for this to happen.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin agreed that trade relations should not be severed, but called on Israelis to refrain from traveling to Turkey since it gives the country revenue that could be given to less hostile countries.
“I recommend not to travel to Turkey,” the Likud minister told Ynet. “As long as this it the treatment from the Turks, there is no reason for us to go there.”
“Unfortunately, Turkey has a leader who time after time exploits the Israeli issue to create headlines and try to garner support ahead of elections,” Levin charged.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri agreed that ties shouldn’t be cut, but said that “for years we have noticed that Erdogan is heading toward insane extremism.”
Former director-general of the Foreign Ministry Dore Gold also told Kan that he supported the decision to retain diplomatic relations with Turkey, even though Erdogan was “disgusting.”
“What Israel is doing is an appropriate response — an eye for an eye,” Gold said. “If [Erdogan] talks about a genocide Israel is committing — which is nonsense — we will talk about the Armenian genocide.”
Two Israeli lawmakers said Wednesday they would propose bills to officially recognize as a genocide the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian people by Ottoman forces during World War I. Israel has refrained from recognizing the genocide so as to avoid angering Turkey.
Earlier on Thursday, Science Minister Ofir Akunis said Israel needs to “isolate Turkey in the international arena and expose Erdogan’s anti-Semitic face.”
Akunis added that the Turkish president was “a neo-fascist who hates Israel and has always reviled it.”
He said Israel should recognize the Armenian genocide and “go up five notches in our international activity against Erdogan and against Turkey.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.