WASHINGTON (Today’s Zaman)—The Congressional Caucus on US-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans (Turkey Caucus) has warned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a letter that his recent rhetoric is increasingly damaging Turkish-American relations and that it is becoming harder to defend Turkey’s interests in Washington.
In a sharply worded letter, Democrats and Republicans who’ve led House efforts to advance US-Turkish relations warned Erdoğan last week about what they considered to be his anti-Semitic comments. They told him that he risked damaging ties between the US and Turkey.
The Turkey Caucus is a bipartisan platform in which members of the US Congress focus on US-Turkish relations and issues that concern Turkish-Americans. It was established by Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas in March of 2001.
Turkey has been among the most outspoken critics of Israel recently for its military operations in Gaza. Erdoğan has accused the Jewish state of “barbarism surpassing Hitler.”
“Remarks you have made recently have been widely viewed as anti-Semitic and are most definitely anti-Israel,” the House letter to Erdoğan states, adding that these remarks have made it harder to “communicate in a positive way about Turkey.”
Erdoğan’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany is “historically inaccurate and provocative,” the lawmakers write in the July 29 letter. They lament that Turkey had at one time contributed to peace efforts in the Middle East, while the prime minister’s recent comments “do nothing to end the violence, but rather could serve to instigate further hatred.”
Speaking at a rally on Sunday in Istanbul, Erdoğan once again harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and said, “Israel is seeking the same thing Hitler did, to create a pure race.” Then he said that he had received a letter recently from the Turkey Caucus.
“They think they are threatening me. They will receive the same kind of answer,” Erdoğan said.
The letter bears the signatures of all four caucus co-chairs: Whitfield, Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, and Democratic Congressmen Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Gerry Connolly of Virginia. Some members of the Turkey Caucus expressed surprise that Erdoğan had mentioned the letter publicly.
Erdoğan’s remarks targeting Israel have recently attracted heavy criticism from the US. Department of State officials have cautioned Erdoğan not to use “inflammatory” or “offensive” language about Israel, adding that Erdoğan’s remarks only damage Turkey’s international standing. Erdoğan shot back that no one has the right to tell him what to say.
Amid growing concerns over Erdoğan’s condemnation of Israel, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) recently asked Erdoğan to return an award given to him in 2004.
“Attempts to depict Prime Minister Erdoğan’s legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s attacks on civilians as expressions of anti-Semitism are an obvious distortion,” said the Turkish ambassador to the US, Serdar Kılıç, in a response to AJC President Jack Rosen. The letter also said that Erdoğan would gladly return the award.
The Turkey Caucus’s letter can be read below.
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Dear Prime Minister Erdoğan,
As co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans, we are viewed by our colleagues as advocates for strong ties with your country. Indeed, each of us understands and values the important historical relationship between the United States and Turkey and we have worked over the years to educate our colleagues about the importance of the relationship between our countries. Our common goal is to improve those relations in a way that is beneficial and sustainable for both of our countries and economically.
It has come to our attention that remarks you have made recently have been widely viewed as anti-Semitic and are most definitely anti-Israel. Your remarks, already reviled as “offensive and wrong” by the U.S. State Department, make it increasingly difficult to communicate in a positive way about Turkey when interacting with our colleagues. Your statement: “You can see that what Israel does to Palestine, to Gaza right now, has surpassed what Hitler did to them” is historically inaccurate and provocative. Many countries around the world are focused on working towards peace in the Middle East, and at one time Turkey was considered among them. Your recent comments, however, do nothing to end violence but rather could serve to instigate further hatred.
We remain strong supporters of robust U.S.-Turkey relations and hope that you will consider the impact that such inflammatory rhetoric has on our relationship.