By Ayla Jean Yackley
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday compared his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to the Islamist militants who killed 17 people in Paris last week, saying both had committed crimes against humanity.
He also accused a secular Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet of “incitement” for publishing excerpts from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the first target in the Paris attacks.
Within hours, a prosecutor opened an investigation into the Turkish daily.
Davutoglu said Israel’s bombardments of Gaza and its storming in 2010 of a Turkish-led aid convoy heading there, in which 10 Turks were killed, were on a par with the Paris attacks, whose dead included shoppers at a Jewish supermarket.
The comments at a news conference escalated a war of words between the former allies: Israel’s far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called President Tayyip Erdogan an “anti-Semitic bully” on Wednesday for criticising Netanyahu’s attendance, with other world leaders, at a Paris solidarity march for the attack victims on Sunday.
Erdogan’s spokesman issued a statement accusing Netanyahu of Islamophobia to link the bloodshed in France to Islam.
“The Israeli government must halt its aggressive and racist policies instead of attacking others and sheltering behind anti-Semitism,” spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on the presidential website.
Turkey condemned the Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo, in which Islamist gunmen killed 12 people, but has also warned rising Islamophobia in Europe risks inflaming unrest by Muslims.
Davutoglu also attended the Paris memorial rally, which he said was a march against terrorism.
“Just as the massacre in Paris committed by terrorists is a crime against humanity, Netanyahu, as the head of the government that kills children playing on the beach with the bombardment of Gaza, destroys thousands of homes … and that massacred our citizens on an aid ship in international waters, has committed crimes against humanity,” the Turkish premier said.
Netanyahu, speaking in Jerusalem, called for an international condemnation of Erdogan and Davutoglu’s remarks.
“I have not heard condemnation from the international community to these unacceptable words. I want to say clearly that if the international community does not condemn those who support terror and do not stand strongly and clearly against those who fight it, the wave of terror that is sweeping the world will only increase,” Netanyahu said.
The assault on the aid convoy ruptured relations between Turkey and Israel, which previously enjoyed close diplomatic and military ties. They remain major trading partners.
Israel fought a 50-day war with the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last year, killing more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, Gaza medical officials said. The Israeli death toll was 73, mostly soldiers.
“If Israel is looking for a bully, it needs to look in the mirror,” said Davutoglu, whose Islamist-rooted AK Party has held power in Turkey for more than a decade.
Criticising Cumhuriyet, he said freedom of the press did not extend to insulting religious values, a crime punishable by jail in Turkey.
Cumhuriyet published one of five international versions of the “survivors’ edition” of Charlie Hebdo. The original bore an image of Mohammed on its cover, which is prohibited by Islamic convention.