Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out against Israel May 8 and called on Muslims around the world to “visit” Al-Aqsa, the mosque located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The Turkish leader, who dreams of restoring the Ottoman Empire with himself as its self-styled caliph, made the remarks in Istanbul at the International Forum on Al-Quds Waqf (the Islamic religious trust that controls and manages the Muslim buildings on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).
Erdogan’s request – a code word for political action — was a direct challenge to U.S. President Trump, whose upcoming visit to Jerusalem coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem.
“As a Muslim community, we need to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque often. Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us,” Erdogan said.
He railed against the Israel’s “occupation” of Jerusalem, calling on Muslims to flock to “Al-Quds” and prevent Israel from changing the status quo on the mount and taking over control of the Muslim holy sites.
(Never mind that Israel has repeatedly stated it has no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, a 50-year arrangement thus far that allows Muslim control of the property and forbids non-Muslims from making any kind of religious displays, including praying, singing or the like.)
Erdogan’s rant continued, invoking the accusation that Israel is a discriminatory, apartheid state.
“It is the common duty of all Muslims to embrace the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem,” he continued.
Erdogan’s personal and aggressive attack marks the first of its kind since Turkey and Israel buried the hatchet last summer after a six-year hiatus in diplomatic ties following Turkey’s attempt to break Israel’s internally-sanctioned naval blockade on Gaza. (Israel allows goods into Gaza through land-based crossings, but maintains a naval blockage to prevent arms from reaching the area, which is governed by Hamas, a terrorist organization.)
So what was the attack all about and why now?
Erdogan knows anti-Israel sentiments supporting the “Palestinian cause” are the rallying cry of extremist Muslims worldwide.
Moreover, given Erdogan’s new-found confidence following the referendum vote in Turkey that pumps him with all-encompassing powers (essentially establishing Erdogan as Turkey’s equivalent of a “Supreme Leader”), the Forum on Al-Quds represented an opportunity for Erdogan not to be missed.
One could say, it was almost a matter of honor. But really, it was a matter of power. Who else in the (anti-American branch of the) Muslim world could stand up to America? Who has that status today? And who wouldn’t look up to a Muslim leader that isn’t afraid to so do?
Erdogan’s drumming up the political canard that Israel wants to take over the Temple Mount was meant to preempt Trump’s stated plan (at least during campaign season) that he intends to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an acknowledgement of Israel’s sovereign rights to the city.
It is an easy rallying cry to pit Muslims against America.
And with a post-election Trump already wavering on his promise, it marks an easy win if the U.S. president decides to scrap the move. And if not, the fight is on. So much the better for Erdogan, who can’t lose either way.
Erdogan has positioned himself to be the protector of the Muslim world against the leader of the West and is already engaging in a proxy war against the U.S. His latest attack represents another shot in the battle.
Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org.