Prime Minister Erdogan’s ‘Zionism’ Comments Isolate Him and His Country

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan listens at a press conference during the 5th Global Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, February 27, 2013.

Speaking recently at the 5th Global Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan grouped Zionism in with anti-Semitism, fascism, and Islamophobia as “crimes against humanity.” While Prime Minister Erdogan’s outrageous comments seem intended to isolate Israel, they also threaten to further isolate Turkey at a time when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, should be seeking to build new partnerships to replace its failed “zero problems with neighbors” strategy.

Prime Minister Erdogan’s comments, delivered in front of a global audience, seemed like an attitude from a bygone era. Casting Zionism together with anti-Semitism, fascism, and Islamophobia in this way is not only deeply offensive but also quite historically inaccurate and has the potential to promote or justify violence.

In its broadest definition, modern Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people. Developed in response to centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe, it holds that Jews represent a national group and are thus deserving of self-determination in a state of their own. By declaring Zionism—an essentially political movement—a “crime against humanity,” Prime Minister Erdogan implies that it should meet resistance appropriate to such a grave crime—namely, force.

Islamophobia certainly represents a problem, both in Europe and the United States, and Prime Minister Erdogan is right to deplore it. Having published a major 2011 report on the Islamophobia network here in the United States—which has received considerable coverage in Turkey—we at the Center for American Progress think it important that the term not be misused or devalued through these kinds of inappropriate, inaccurate comparisons.

It is in both Turkey’s and the United States’ interest to heal tensions between Israel and Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan’s incendiary remarks make that more difficult and act against Turkey’s long-term national interest.

Matthew Duss is a Policy Analyst with the National Security team at the Center for American Progress and Director of Middle East Progress at the Center. Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center.