Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called Israel a “fascist” state while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Turkey was becoming a “dark dictatorship” as the rivals engaged in a new war of words over a controversial law.
Turkey has led condemnation in the Islamic world of a hotly debated new law adopted by the Knesset last week defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
The spat is just the latest tension between the two leaders that threatens to derail a normalisation in relations between Israel and one of its few Muslim partners.
In his first reaction to the law, Erdogan did not mince words, likening Israel s leadership to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and even drawing parallels between racial policy in Nazi Germany and modern Israel.
“This measure has shown without leaving the slightest room for doubt that Israel is the world s most Zionist, fascist and racist state,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party.
Erdogan claimed there was “no difference between Hitler s obsession with the Aryan race and Israel s understanding that these ancient lands are meant only for Jews.”
“The spirit of Hitler, which led the world to a great catastrophe, has found its resurgence among some of Israel s leaders,” he added.
The Nazis killed around six million Jews in the Holocaust during World War II.
But Netanyahu hit back with characteristic speed, lashing out at Erdogan for Turkey s campaigns inside Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria and its mass crackdown after the 2016 failed coup.
“Erdogan is massacring Syrians and Kurds and has imprisoned tens of thousands of his citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Turkey under Erdogan is becoming a dark dictatorship, while Israel is meticulously maintaining equal rights for all its citizens, before and after the law.”
The legislation makes Hebrew the national language of Israel and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest.
Arabic, previously considered an official language, was downgraded to one with a “special status”.
The law does not specify equality and Israel s democratic character, implying that the country s Jewish nature comes first, analysts said.
Arab citizens account for 17.5 percent of Israel s population of more than eight million.
Erdogan s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin then hit back at Netanyahu, saying the prime minister of Israel — which he described as a “Zionist apartheid state built on racism, occupation and displacement — (was in) no position to lecture our president on human rights.”
Kalin said the Israeli law was “a shameless attempt to institutionalise discrimination against the Palestinian people” while Turkey s criticism was “a universal call for justice and peace”.
Turkey and Israel in 2016 normalised ties after relations were downgraded for over half a decade following the crisis sparked by the May 2010 deadly storming of a Turkish ship by Israeli commandos.
The rapprochement received the warm applause of the United States, which has always been keen to see a good relationship between Israel, its main ally in the Middle East, and NATO partner Turkey.
But tensions have flared again in recent months, particularly after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the United States embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinians, twice held summits of Muslim states to denounce the move.
Ankara then ordered out Israel s ambassador in May after Israeli soldiers killed dozens of unarmed protestors along the border with the Gaza Strip.
The Turkish president is proud of his stance on the Palestinians and famously walked out of a January 2009 debate in Davos with then Israeli president Shimon Peres, complaining he was not given enough time to respond and repeatedly saying “one minute”.
But analysts note that behind the rhetoric economic ties remain strong, with trade robust and both sides interested in the export of Israeli energy resources to Turkey.