Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a long history of making outrageous slurs against Israel. He got more attention than usual yesterday when he proclaimed at a United Nations event (where anti-Israel attacks are entirely unremarkable) that Zionism is a “crime against humanity.”

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, March 1. (Jacquelyn Martin, Pool/Associated Press )

Andy McCarthy points out that this is nothing new, recalling Erdogan said it was a  “‘crime against humanity’ for Israel to defend itself in 2008′s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ after over 3000 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory.”

Anyone who has been around the U.N. block more than a few times understands the backstory here:

Erdogan’s fellow Islamic-supremacists engineered the passage of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3379, declaring that Zionism was a form of racism. The condemnation by the United States of this blatant act of anti-Semitism was unequivocal. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., asserted, “The United States … does not acknowledge, it will never abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” Even the fraudulent enterprise that is the U.N. eventually felt compelled to buckle under forceful American leadership (much of it provided in the Bush 41 State Department by a young assistant secretary named John Bolton). The noxious “Zionism equals racism” resolution was finally repealed in 1991.

Unfortunately, too many are ignorant or willfully ignorant of the history and dismiss this sort of talk off with a wave of the hand. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams knowingly questions, “[I]sn’t [Secretary of State John] Kerry going to Ankara? If so, will he be silent on the statement?”

That is the rub, isn’t it? The Emergency Committee for Israel, which took on the Chuck Hagel Democrats (who were not much moved by frequent slurs against Jews and Israel by our now secretary of defense), put out a statement calling on Kerry to speak out, which includes this language:

What will Kerry say? How will he respond to Erdogan? If he says nothing, he will be turning a blind eye to an explicit denial of the Jewish State’s right to exist. The denial of Israel’s right to exist is defined by Kerry’s State Department as a form of anti-Semitism. Will Kerry stay silent in the face of such a reprehensible statement by a member of NATO, a major recipient of advanced American arms, and — ostensibly — a U.S. ally?


“President Obama likes to say that “when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” Erdogan’s call for the destruction of Israel does not mean the chips are down. But shouldn’t the U.S. president and secretary of state speak out when they hear such a statement? Will American leaders remain silent in the face of eliminationist rhetoric from leaders who seek our good favor? We will see tomorrow whether Secretary of State Kerry and the White House have Israel’s back, not when the chips are down, but when the leader of an important country over whom the U.S. has substantial influence speaks in a way that forecasts and encourages the worst kinds of deeds.

It is odd that the president of all the world’s leaders would have such a close bond with Erdogan. But then the president should be uniquely positioned to make an impact with Erdogan, either speaking directly in public himself or in instructing his secretary of state to take up the matter sternly and publicly, just as Erdogan’s attack was made in public. The president keeps saying he has Israel’s back, so now is the time to show it.

Now, Vice President Biden will be talking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, where he will no doubt try to ingratiate himself and the administration in the wake of the Hagel confirmation. It would be a mistake, however, for Kerry to be silent when talking to Erdogan, letting Biden rebuff Erdogan in the comfy confines of pro-Israel activists. This is precisely the wrong message both to Erdogan and the pro-Israel community. Unless we speak — what is the phrase? — truth to power and let allies and adversaries know we are not going to accept attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, the attacks will (as they have since Obama took office) become worse and more frequent. Telling domestic constituents one thing and Islamic leaders another signals that we really don’t have Israel’s back and that this an inconsequential matter of our domestic politics. Let’s see if the administration avoids that error.

UPDATE: In a positive sign, a senior State Department official said today in a background briefing for reporters: “I don’t think that this particular comment has been made like this before. This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity. I don’t think we’ve heard that before, and like I said, I’m sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it. And I don’t want to get into speculation about the overall relationship, but just to state the obvious, that it complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing.”

Let’s hope this rebuke lives up to its billing and that the comments are reiterated in public so there is no doubt as to the seriousness of our objection.

UPDATE ll: Kerry did indeed mention in public, at a news conference, that the United States not only disagreed with the Turkish leader but found his remark “objectionable.” Coupled with the quotes from the “senior State Department official” (code for the secretary?), this is a solid rebuff to Erdogan.