An internal Israeli Foreign Ministry document accuses Turkey's prime minister of fueling anti-Semitism with his criticism of Israel, an official said Tuesday, threatening to spark a new diplomatic row with one of its few Muslim allies.
The ministry's report comes two weeks after Israel's deputy foreign minister enraged Turkey by summoning the country's ambassador for a humiliating public reprimand shown on Israeli TV. Although Israel was forced to apologize, the report said the reprimand made it clear to Turkey that there must be a limit to its criticism.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a fierce critic of Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip last year. The report accused Erdogan, leader of an Islamic-oriented party, of going too far with his rhetoric and creating "negative public opinion" toward Israel.
"He does this by repeating motifs in his speeches of describing the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza and blaming Israel of committing war crimes, going as far as using anti-Semitic expressions and incitement," the report said.
It said Erdogan, for instance, does not distinguish between "Israeli" and "Jewish," turning criticism of Israel into anti-Jewish diatribes.
It also said he has turned a blind eye to anti-Semitic references in the Turkish media and has made ignorant and insulting comments about Jews.
The report said Erdogan has made comments like "Jews are good with money" without understanding their anti-Semitic character, but officials would give no further examples.
A year ago, a statement attributed to Erdogan said that in its Gaza war, Israel was "perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction. Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."
Excerpts of the ministry's report were published in the Haaretz daily and confirmed by an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential document.
In Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected the charge. "To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitism," he told independent NTV television. "Criticism of Israel's policies should not be given other meanings." He called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza.
Israel and Turkey have forged close military and economic ties in recent decades. Turkey has given Israel a rare ally in the Muslim world, while for Ankara the alliance has boosted its standing with the West.
Last year, the Turks mediated several rounds of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria.
The alliance, however, has become strained since Erdogan's party came to power in 2002 — and particularly since the Gaza war.
Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including about 900 civilians, according to Palestinian and international human rights groups. Israel, which launched the operation to halt years of Hamas rocket attacks, says the militant group caused civilian casualties by hiding in residential areas.
In a sign of the poor relations, Israeli officials said this week that Israeli tourism to Turkey has plummeted about 45 percent over the past year. Tourism officials said 300,000 Israelis went to Turkey last year, compared with 560,000 in 2008. Turkey had been a popular destination for Israelis, attracted by low prices and the convenience of a 90-minute flight.
Yossi Fattal, head of the Israel Tourist and Travel Agents Association, said politics and tourism are inextricably linked.
"This is not only about political differences, but something more basic, about the personal relationship between the countries," he said. "Unless something meaningful is said by the (Turkish) government, the drop in numbers will continue."
Associated Press Writer Shira Rubin contributed to this report.
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