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Netanyahu lashes out at Erdogan after Turkey calls Israel racist

The Israeli and Turkish leaders have often initiated spats with one another [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 March, 2019

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday hit back at Turkey following accusations of 'blatant racism' directed towards the Israeli prime minister.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a "dictator" and attacked Turkey's human rights record in response to Turkey lambasting Netanyahu's "blatant racism".

Turkey on Tuesday denounced Netanyahu after he called Israel the nation-state of "the Jewish people" only, not all its citizens.

"I strongly condemn this blatant racism and discrimination," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.

"1.6 million Arabs/Muslims live in Israel. Will the Western governments react or keep silent under pressure again?" he asked.

Netanyahu's initial comment came amid a debate sparked by Culture Minister Miri Regev, who warned voters not to support the main rival of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party as it would ally with Israeli Arab parties.

Celebrities such as Gal Gadot and Israeli model and actress Rotem Sela hit back at Regev, with Sela posting on Instagram: "When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal?"

Netanyahu responded with his own Instagram post:  "Israel is not a state of all its citizens."

"According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people -- and only it," he said, referring to the controversial law passed by his government last year.

The nation-state act defines Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and demotes Arabic from its former status as an official language. Palestinian citizens of Israel say the law legalises discrimination, as it omits any reference to equality.

Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonising Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April polls.

War of words

In the latest in an ongoing war of words between the two leaders, Netanyahu attacked Erdogan early on Wednesday.

"Turkey's dictator Erdogan attacks Israel's democracy while Turkish journalists and judges fill his prisons," he tweeted.

"What a joke!"

Turkey is the world's most prolific imprisoner of journalists, with 68 in jail for their work as of December 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

About 77,000 people were arrested and more than 160,000 fired from public sector positions, including judges, teachers, and other civil servants, following the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

"In Israel, no one is a second class citizen. Israel is a democracy in which all Israeli, including our nearly 2 million Arab citizens, enjoy equal rights," Netanyahu continued.

"But Israel is also the one and only Jewish state."

Kalin once again swiftly responded, accusing Netanyahu of attacking Erdogan "for exposing him" after his "racist remarks" towards Arabs and Muslims.

"The apartheid state he leads occupies Palestinian lands, kills women & children & imprisons Palestinians in their own land," he wrote.

"Lies and pressure will not hide your crimes."

Turkey and Israel have tense relations and Erdogan, who has made efforts to present himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is a vocal critic of Israeli policies.

The two countries in 2016 ended a six-year rift triggered by the Israeli storming of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid flotilla, which left 10 Turkish activists dead and led to a downgrading of diplomatic ties.

Israel and Turkey formally normalised ties in 2016 but relations soured again following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Netanyahu and Erdogan traded insults in December after the Israeli prime minister called Turkey "the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey".

Erdogan hit back calling Netanyahu the "head of state terror" responsible for "crimes against humanity" in occupied Palestine.

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