Snubbing Ankara, Israeli envoy bows out of interfaith event

Jerusalem’s man in Berlin cancels involvement in high-level meeting with Turkish deputy PM in protest of Erdogan’s ‘lies about Zionism’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo credit: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

The diplomatic row between Jerusalem and Ankara over derogatory statements Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made about Zionism continues: Israel’s ambassador in Germany on Tuesday canceled his participation in an event because Erdogan’s deputy, Bülent Arınç, was scheduled to appear there as well.

Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsman had originally planned to take part in the event — entitled “Muslims, Jews, Christians: Peace is possible!” — at a Berlin hotel because “dialogue is the constructive element for international understanding,” he said in a statement.

“Because of the importance of this event I expected that the Turkish prime minister would retract his recent horrible statements and lies about Zionism. But since that did not happen I am forced to cancel my participation in the event. Erdogan’s statements contradict the purpose of a dialogue.”

The deputy secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, Maram Stern, also canceled his planned participation at the Berlin event. “As the reason, Stern cited Erdogan’s failure to withdraw his controversial comments and apologize for them,” the organization said in a press release.

Last week, Erdogan sparked international condemnation when he described Zionism as a “crime against humanity” on par with anti-Semitism and fascism. Israel, the US, Germany and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took Erdogan to task for his comments, as did numerous Jewish and international human rights groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also censured his Turkish counterpart. “This is a dark and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had passed from the world,” he said.

Israel and Turkey enjoyed close diplomatic and business relations for years, but a gradual deterioration accelerated due to the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, in which clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and IDF troops aboard the Mavi Marmara ship resulted in the deaths of nine activists, eight of them Turkish citizens, and injuries to several Israeli soldiers.

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have since remained sour, with Turkey demanding an apology, and compensation for the families of those killed, as prerequisites for the renewal of ties.

Earlier this week, a report said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last month publicly refused to shake hands with outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a security conference in Munich, saying that “there will always be a distance between us unless you meet our demands.”

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