Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a short and tense visit to Germany amid deep differences between the two NATO allies over the war in Gaza.
Erdogan called Israel a “terror state” and pointed to its Western allies, including Germany, for supporting military “massacres” in Gaza.
On Friday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasized Israel’s right to self-defense.
“Our solidarity with Israel is beyond question,” he said at a joint press conference with Erdogan.
“We don’t owe anything to Israel, so we can talk freely,” Erdogan said, referring to Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust and how Berlin could influence its relations with Israel. “If we were in debt, we wouldn’t be able to talk so freely. But those who are in debt cannot talk freely,” he said.
The Turkish leader also sharply criticized Israel for its relentless air and ground offensive in Gaza, saying attacks on children and hospitals have no place in the Jewish holy book.
“There are no records in the Torah about shooting at hospitals and killing children, you cannot do that,” Erdogan told reporters.
Ismail Thawabta, director general of the government media office in Gaza, told reporters on Friday that the total number of Palestinians killed since the war broke out on October 7 has exceeded 12,000, including 5,000 children.
A frosty start
It was Erdogan’s first visit to Germany since 2020, when he attended a conference on Libya in Berlin.
Ahead of the visit, the Turkish leader stepped up his condemnation of Israel’s attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, saying it had “unlimited support” from the West.
He has previously called for Israeli leaders to be prosecuted for war crimes at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and reiterated his view – as well as Turkey’s long-standing position – that Hamas is not a “terrorist organization” but a political party that won the last Palestinian war in the parliamentary elections that were held in 2006
Since October 7, when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and prompting the Israeli government to retaliate with a devastating air and ground attack on Gaza, the Turkish president has sharpened his criticism of Israel.
After the Hamas attack, Scholz traveled to Israel to offer support to Germany.
This month, Germany announced a total ban on Hamas as well as the German branch of Samidoun, known as the Palestinian Prisoners Solidarity Network, saying it “supports and glorifies” groups including Hamas.
“Anti-Semitism is in no way allowed in our country,” Scholz said at a news conference.
“I would like to emphasize that five million Muslims live in Germany and they have their place here,” he added.
Erdogan has rebuked suggestions that his attacks on Israel have anti-Semitic overtones.
“In our opinion, there should be no discrimination between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the region. I fought against anti-Semitism. I am the leader who is leading this fight,” he said.
German authorities have banned many pro-Palestinian demonstrations in what they say is an effort to prevent anti-Semitism in society and curb unrest.
Both countries have always been, as Scholz’s spokesman put it, “uncomfortable partners.”
Berlin has been vocal in its criticism of Erdogan’s suppression of domestic dissent, while admitting that winning over to regional power Turkey was necessary to deal with sensitive issues.
Despite the differences, economic cooperation between the two countries continues, and bilateral trade will reach a record amount of EUR 51.6 billion ($56.2 billion) in 2022.
Germany is home to the largest Turkish diaspora abroad. Most of the three million-strong Turkish community are Erdogan supporters.
Erdogan’s attitude raised questions in Germany about the wisdom of hosting the Turkish leader at this time, and opposition conservatives and even the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), a member of Scholz’s coalition, called on the chancellor to withdraw the invitation.
Although much of the press conference was dominated by the Israel-Hamas conflict, the two leaders also discussed the grain agreement between Russia and Ukraine, which Turkey helped negotiate before Russia withdrew from it.
They were to try to find common ground for an agreement on the migration pact concluded in 2016 between the European Union and Turkey to stop the influx of immigrants to Europe.
Erdogan linked ongoing discussions about this agreement, which some European countries would like to revive and change, to Turkey’s EU accession process, which has been suspended.
He also hoped to gain Scholz’s support to revive talks on the modernization of Turkey’s customs union with the EU and visa liberalization for Turkish citizens before the upcoming local elections, in which he hopes to regain the country’s largest cities, including the capital Ankara and Istanbul.
Turkey wanted to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, which – according to the Turkish Ministry of Defense – was opposed by Germany, the co-producer.