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Davutoğlu rejects US Congress pressure to retract Zionism remarks

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu responded on Thursday to a letter by 89 members of the US Congress urging Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to retract his remarks describing Zionism as a crime against humanity, saying Turkey's clean slate in rejecting anti-Semitism cannot be called into question. But the foreign minister also reiterated criticism of what he called Israel's expansionist and aggressive policies in the region. “Our position is clear; we are against anti-Semitism,” he told a press conference with his Romanian counterpart, Titus Corlatean, on Thursday. Davutoğlu added that Turkey has been a safe harbor for the Jewish community in the past 600 years, while Europe suffered from ghettos and the Holocaust. “We will keep our door open for every community that faces challenges in terms of human rights,” said the Turkish foreign minister. Davutoğlu also warned that nobody should try to tarnish Turkey's clean record and seek to approve Israel's aggressive attitude. Members of the US Congress have sent Erdoğan a letter asking him to take back earlier remarks in which he likened Zionism to crimes against humanity such as fascism and anti-Semitism. “Based on our country's long engagement with Turkey, and Turkey's significant roles in NATO and the UN, we know that your Government shares a commitment to meaningful international involvement to advance security and peace. In that spirit, we look forward to the retraction of your comment equating Zionism with fascism and anti-Semitism and labeling it a 'crime against humanity',” 89 congressmen who signed the letter said. The US lawmakers stressed on the historical friendship and trade ties between Turkey and Israel, noting that rapprochement between the two countries was necessary for regional security and stability.

“The United States has not forgotten how a centuries-old legacy of tolerance led to Turkey being the first Muslim-majority country to recognize the State of Israel in 1949. Your nation led the region, and much of the world, in acknowledging the right of the Jewish people to live in peace and security in its national homeland,” the letter recalled.

During the UN Alliance of Civilizations conference in late February, Erdoğan had complained of prejudices against Muslims and said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity “just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and fascism.” Erdoğan's remarks received a barrage of criticism from the White House, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israel after a video recording of the speech was published by a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization, UN Watch.

“Prime Minister Erdoğan continues to pursue a policy of distance and isolation from the West instead of pursuing closer ties with the US, Europe and Israel,” commented Mark Kirk, a Republican senator who signed the letter.

The letter was also supported by 12 members of the Congressional Caucus on Turkey and Turkish Americans (Turkey Caucus) platform. Ed Royce, chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs who also sponsored anti-Turkey bills in the past, and Eliot Engel, a senior Democratic congressman, were among officials who urged Erdoğan to take back his Zionism comments.

A significant detail about the timing of the letter, according to a news report in the Milliyet daily on Thursday, was that it came a few days after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference where the attendees discussed Erdoğan's remarks on Zionism in a session about Turkey. Activists from AIPAC, on the last day of the conference, had headed to the Hill to meet with members of Congress and deliver their political demands.

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