Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech to a United Nations body in Vienna in which he compared Zionism, the ideology behind the creation of a Jewish state, to fascism. He compared it to Islamophobia as well. "We must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."
Yes, that's right: he condemned anti-Semitism and Zionism in the same sentence. Does condemning Zionism make you anti-Semitic? Not in Erdogan's mind, it seems. That's not a question for me to parse, but it's worth noting that a lot of people seem to perceive any condemnation of Zionism as a condemnation of, if not all Jews, then certainly the ones living in Israel. And that's the point. Causing offense to Israelis and concern among Turkey's Western allies would seem to be an entirely foreseeable consequence of comparing Zionism to fascism. So why say it?
The video of his speech is above (flip ahead to 8:00) and a partial transcript (source: the New York Times's Robert Mackey) is below. But first, here are the three things I find really puzzling about this.
1) Erdogan's speech was about, and you can't top this irony, combatting racism and discrimination based on religion. "We see racist attacks on the rise in the world," he said, specifically discussing attacks on Muslims. Again, whether or not Erdogan meant to attack Jews or Israelis in general, he had to know that his comments would be taken that way. Is he just not aware of that apparent contradiction? Or was this comment meant as a deliberate rhetorical jab at Israel, with which Erdogan's Turkey has had a bumpy relationship?
2) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Erdogan's comments. From here, does the Turkish prime minister find some way to calm things down – presumably by walking back the comment – or is this the start of yet another minor downturn in the relationship?
3) Israel and Turkey have some important shared interests in the region, which are only going to become more important as Syria continues to spiral out of control. Those shared interests are probably why, despite the leaders' obvious distrust of one another, the two countries have kept things basically civil and occasionally productive. This is a minor test to that relationship, but it will be interesting to see the degree to which Israeli-Turkish ties do or do not break down.
Here's the relevant section from his speech:
In addition to indifference vis-à-vis the Muslim countries, we also see harsh, offending, insulting behavior towards Muslims who live in countries other than their own, and this continues to be an unconscionable act that has been ongoing around the world.
We should be striving to better understand the beliefs of others but instead we see that people act based on prejudice and exclude others and despise them. And that is why it is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.