Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, addressed members of the Baltimore Jewish Council at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s headquarters to tackle questions concerning Israeli-Turkish relations.
“The relationship between the Turkish and Jewish people in our recent history stands as a complete example of peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding and appreciation,” Kilic said to start his Nov. 5 speech.
Kilic, who was Turkey’s ambassador to Japan before accepting his current role in April 2014, continued by praising the BJC’s efforts in counteracting Islamophobia. He specifically cited the BJC’s condemnation of remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson regarding a Muslim becoming the president of the United States.
I believe that the present state of affairs between Turkey and
Israel, which are the only two democratic countries in that region, is unacceptable. The importance of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations has become more important than ever.
“[I will emphasize] that the criticism [made by Turkey] was directed to the Israeli government due to its heavy-handed conduct in Gaza last summer and had nothing to do with the Israeli people or Jewish community,” said Kilic. “At the time, the Turkish community and Turkish government made that distinction very clear.”
Kilic added that when Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, visited Washington last April, he attempted to arrange a meeting between the minister and leaders of American Jewish organizations, but the meeting failed to happen after receiving little support. Kilic said this meeting could have helped to reaffirm that Turkey’s criticisms were against the Israeli government and not its citizens.
“I believe that the present state of affairs between Turkey and Israel, which are the only two democratic countries in that region, is unacceptable,” said Kilic, noting Syria’s civil war, terrorism and various sectarian conflicts in the region. “The importance of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations has become more important than ever.”
A question-and-answer session followed Kilic’s speech.
“Turkey has sustained [rocket] fire from Syria, which it has returned, promptly and aggressively, and yet when Israel does the same for Gaza, there’s a condemnation of Israel,” said Abba David Poliakoff, first vice president of the BJC. “Furthermore, [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has made some statements about Israel that go beyond just relating to a disagreement over the incident of the blockade [of the Gaza Strip]. Now that [Erdogan] has been elected with a stronger majority, why should Israel not feel worried?”
Kilic began his response by stating that Turkey has retaliated against Syria and warned other countries of retaliation, such as Russia, if it continues to violate Turkish airspace. “But we never attacked a school; we never attacked a mosque — this is the difference between Turkish retaliation and the retaliation of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” said Kilic, adding that while Erdogan’s criticism of the situation was harsh, “[Erdogan] made a clear distinction at that time: ‘Whatever I say is not to the people of Israel; it is addressing the government of Israel and Netanyahu personally.’”
Kilic and Poliakoff began going back and forth, but Kilic repeatedly emphasized that “[Israel has] the right to self-defense, and [it has] the right to take every measure to protect Israeli citizens,” but in doing so, Israel must take caution to avoid collateral damage, even if that means a sacrifice on the military’s part.
Kilic explained that the Turkish military recently lost 20 soldiers in southeastern Turkey in an effort to capture five terrorists.
Poliakoff also questioned why Turkey did not condemn the United States after an airstrike destroyed a hospital in Afghanistan. Kilic insisted that Turkey did criticize the U.S. for that airstrike.
After Kilic answered several questions, he turned to Poliakoff, who was sitting only a few feet from the podium, and reaffirmed his position on Israel’s right to self-defense. Before leaving, he walked over to Poliakoff and shook hands.
“We appreciate the honest relationship that we have with [Kilic] and other members of his government, and it is vitally important that this relationship stay honest,” said Art Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “What [Poliakoff] said was [during] an honest exchange, and I’m happy it occurred.”