New York, NY, September 5, 2014 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today issued an open letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, praising his leadership in affirming Turkey’s commitment to providing an inclusive society for all citizens, especially its minority Jewish population, while challenging his government’s strident criticism of Israeli actions particularly during the recent conflict in Gaza.
Earlier this week, ADL received via the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C. a translation of a two-page letter from Mr. Erdogan in which he assured ADL the Turkish Jewish community was safe and “need not be concerned” with public sentiments caused by the events in Gaza or “feel vulnerable on grounds of anti-Semitism.”
But Mr. Erdogan went on to suggest that criticism of Israeli government policies was being obstructed “on the grounds of anti-Semitism” and that this would ultimately “prevent the culture of democracy from taking root in the Middle East.” He also charged Israel with intentionally targeting U.N. schools, hospitals and mosques during Operation Protective Edge.
Mr. Erdogan’s letter, dated August 21, was written in response to a missive from ADL welcoming his presidential election victory speech, where he indicated a desire to create an atmosphere of greater inclusivity and acceptance in Turkey. ADL has made the exchange of letters public.
The following is the text of ADL’s Open Letter to President Erdogan:
Dear Mr. President:
We were heartened by much of what you wrote to us in your letter of August 21. You clearly conveyed your steadfast opposition to expressions of anti-Semitism in Turkey and a dedication to promoting a Turkish society based on non-discrimination and an acceptance of religious, ethnic and other differences. We welcome, and deeply appreciate, your ongoing commitment to the safety and security of the Turkish Jewish community.
Your letter expressed the great value you place on the role of the Jewish community in Turkey and shows your willingness to engage directly in dialogue about issues that are difficult, may be contentious and, at times, can even generate anger. When there are disagreements over those issues, I believe they should be voiced respectfully and, as you pointed out, “be evaluated separately from the existing friendly relations between the Turkish and Jewish people, and from our sentiments directed to our citizens of Jewish descent.”
We fully embrace this sentiment and look forward to continuing the dialogue. However, with all due respect, I was deeply pained by your unfair and one dimensional characterization of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, which you called an “extreme example of Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
This conflict was not a one-sided military assault against innocent Palestinians. Not once in your letter did you take note that all of this began with the kidnapping and horrific murder of three young innocent Israeli civilians, and that it quickly escalated to an all-out war as Hamas waged a campaign of indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns and cities with rockets, munitions and fighters hidden deep within the civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Hamas repeatedly rejected Israel’s overtures for a cease-fire, intentionally provoked Israel and attempted to stoke the conflict by dispatching teams of terrorists through the network of underground tunnels into Israel for guerrilla-style attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. You, too, when you find it necessary, defend your borders and your citizens militarily.
This is not to suggest Israel should be exempt from criticism of its actions in the 50-day conflict. Yet if one is unwilling to acknowledge even these basic facts, then Turkey cannot have credibility as an unbiased observer of the events and a potential facilitator for peace between Israel and Hamas.
We know that the Israeli military did not intentionally target civilians in UNRWA schools, hospitals and mosques. But when such accusations are leveled it fuels the anti-Israel environment in Turkey which sadly fosters distrust and animus toward the Jewish community among some elements of Turkish society.
The suggestion that Israel and Jews misuse claims of anti-Semitism to obstruct criticism, and this is somehow preventing democracy to take root in the Middle East, is unfounded. During this most recent conflict there have been numerous attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions and ugly public expressions of hatred toward Jews across Europe and in other parts of the world. Moreover, Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, has been singled out, vilified and subjected to calls for boycotts and other sanctions.
To be sure, Israel, like Turkey, the United States and every other country in the world can be criticized for their policies and actions. Fairness has no chance when expressions of anti-Semitism are presented as criticism of Israel. We will raise the alarm about anti-Semitism -- not to prevent democracy from taking root anywhere, but to foster respect for Jews and, indeed, all minorities in the region.
Abraham H. Foxman