Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a “dictator” and “a joke” in the latest exchange of insults between the two leaders.
Turkey on Tuesday denounced Netanyahu’s “blatant racism” after he called Israel the nation-state of “the Jewish people” only, not all its citizens.
Netanyahu’s initial comment had come amid an online spat sparked by Israel’s firebrand Culture Minister Miri Regev ahead of April elections and subsequently joined by Israeli Hollywood star Gal Gadot.
Regev, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, had in a TV interview warned voters not to support its main rival because it would rely on the support of Arab Israeli parties.
Model and actress Rotem Sela responded on Instagram, asking: “When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal?”
Netanyahu reacted with his own Instagram message, telling Sela: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.”
“According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it,” he said, referring to a deeply controversial piece of legislation passed last year.
Gadot, star of “Wonder Woman,” jumped to Sela’s defense.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Gadot wrote on Instagram late Sunday. “This isn’t a matter of right or left. Jew or Arab. Secular or religious. It’s a matter of dialogue, of dialogue for peace and security and of our tolerance of one toward the other.”
On Tuesday, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin weighed in on Netanyahu’s comments.
Writing on Twitter in both Turkish and English, he said: “I strongly condemn this blatant racism and discrimination.”
Netanyahu struck back in a statement from his office late Tuesday.
“Turkey’s dictator Erdogan attacks Israel’s democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons,” it read.
“What a joke!”
Turkey’s dictator Erdogan attacks Israel’s democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons. What a joke!
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 12, 2019
Turkey and Israel have tense relations and Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is a vocal critic of Israeli policies.
Israel and Turkey in 2016 formally ended a six-year diplomatic rift that ensued when 10 Turkish activists were killed in a violent confrontation with Israeli commandos aboard a ship, the Mavi Marmara, that aimed to break the naval blockade on Gaza.
Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent the import of weapons by the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonizing Arab Israelis, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April polls.
He is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister MK Yair Lapid.
After the polls, he will also face a hearing to defend himself against corruption allegations that have dogged his campaign.