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Erdoğan on ‘difficult’ German visit after Israel outbursts

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gestures as he addresses media after the cabinet meeting at the presidential complex in Ankara on August 21, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

German leaders host Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for talks Friday, in a highly controversial visit made more explosive by Erdoğan’s branding of Israel as a “terrorist state,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Erdoğan has been increasingly critical of Israel’s war against Gaza-rulers Hamas, triggered after the Islamist gunmen’s deadly attack on Oct. 7 that Israel said killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

While Chancellor Olaf Scholz traveled to Israel to offer Germany’s unconditional and unwavering support after the Hamas attack, Erdoğan has doubled down on his defense of Hamas as “liberators” fighting for their land.

The Turkish leader has accused Israel of committing war crimes with its bombardment and ground incursion in Gaza, where the death toll has mounted past 11,000, according to Hamas-run health authorities in the territory.

Erdoğan’s stance has sparked questions in Germany about the wisdom of hosting the Turkish leader at this time, with the opposition conservatives and even the liberal FDP, a member of Scholz’s coalition, urging Scholz to scrap the invitation.

But the center-left-led government said it was all the more important to keep talking in the toughest of times.

“We have always had difficult partners whom we have to deal with,” said Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit, acknowledging that it is a visit “that will be challenging given the current circumstances.”

“But it’s not just about telling each other what we think, it’s about moving forward on numerous issues … and for that, we need these talks.”

‘Uncomfortable partner’

Characterized as an “uncomfortable partner” by Scholz’s spokesman, Erdoğan will be making his first visit to Germany since 2020, when he attended a conference on Libya in Berlin.

Scholz gave a hint of the tone at the upcoming talks as he characterized a recent “fascism” accusation against Israel by Erdoğan as “absurd.”

Yet the Turkish leader ramped up his verbal attacks against Israel this week, calling it a “terrorist state” and alleging that the West was “trying to exonerate the murderers.”

Ties between the two countries have always been uneasy, with Berlin casting a wary eye on Erdoğan’s clampdown on domestic dissent while recognizing that getting regional power Turkey onside was necessary to tackle thorny issues.

From mediating to get grain shipments out of Ukraine amid Russia’s war to negotiating a key deal on alleviating the 2015-2016 migrant influx in Europe, the NATO member has proven to be a crucial player.

Germany is also home to the biggest Turkish community abroad, and a majority of the Turkish nationals in the country are supporters of Erdoğan, including former German international footballer Mesut Özil.

But Erdoğan’s strident criticism of Israel sets him awkwardly against Germany, which has made the existence of Israel unconditional given its responsibilities over the Holocaust.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Erdoğan did not deserve to be trusted.

“Anyone who not only denies Israel’s right to exist but also actively fights against it should not a be a partner for German politicians,” he told newspaper group RND.

When Scholz hosts the Turkish president for dinner, the chancellor “must use the occasion to make clear to Erdoğan that his relativization of Hamas terror cannot be accepted under any circumstances,” said Schuster.

Calling Erdoğan’s accusations against Israel “completely unacceptable,” Michael Roth, who heads the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, also said the Turkish leader “not only puts a strain on the relations between Germany and Turkey, but above all he is a burden for his own country.”

Yet Roth, who like Scholz is a Social Democrat, said he was in favor of the visit, which will also include a meeting with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Erdoğan.

The discussions must be with “little fuss and little gloss but a lot of plain language,” said Roth.

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