August 6, 2014 - 12:40 AMT
U.S. Congress warns Erdoğan against harsh rhetoric

The Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans (Turkey Caucus) has warned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a letter that his recent rhetoric is increasingly damaging Turkish-American relations and that it is becoming harder to defend Turkey's interests in Washington, Today’s Zaman reports.

In a sharply worded letter, Democrats and Republicans who've led House efforts to advance U.S.-Turkish relations warned Erdoğan last week about what they considered to be his anti-Semitic comments. They told him that he risked damaging ties between the U.S. and Turkey.

The Turkey Caucus is a bipartisan platform in which members of the U.S. Congress focus on U.S.-Turkish relations and issues that concern Turkish-Americans. It was established by Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas in March of 2001.

Turkey has been among the most outspoken critics of Israel for its military operations in Gaza. Erdoğan has accused the Jewish state of "barbarism surpassing [Adolf] Hitler."

"Remarks you have made recently have been widely viewed as anti-Semitic and are most definitely anti-Israel," the House letter to Erdoğan states, adding that these remarks have made it harder to "communicate in a positive way about Turkey."

Erdoğan's comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany is "historically inaccurate and provocative," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. They lament that Turkey had at one time contributed to peace efforts in the Middle East, while the Prime Minister's recent comments "do nothing to end the violence, but rather could serve to instigate further hatred."

Speaking at a rally on Sunday in Istanbul, Erdoğan once again harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and said, “Israel is seeking the same thing Hitler did, to create a pure race.” Then he said that he had received a letter recently from the Turkey Caucus.

“They think they are threatening me. They will receive the same kind of answer,” Erdoğan said.

The letter bears the signatures of all four caucus co-chairs: Whitfield, Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, and Democratic Congressmen Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Gerry Connolly of Virginia. Some members of the Turkey Caucus expressed surprise that Erdoğan had mentioned the letter publicly.

Erdoğan's remarks targeting Israel have recently attracted heavy criticism from the US. Department of State officials have cautioned Erdoğan not to use “inflammatory” or “offensive” language about Israel, adding that Erdoğan's remarks only damage Turkey's international standing. Erdoğan shot back that no one has the right to tell him what to say.

Amid growing concerns over Erdoğan's condemnation of Israel, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) recently asked Erdoğan to return an award given to him in 2004.

“Attempts to depict Prime Minister Erdoğan's legitimate criticism of the Israeli government's attacks on civilians as expressions of anti-Semitism are an obvious distortion,” said the Turkish ambassador to the U.S., Serdar Kılıç, in a response to AJC President Jack Rosen. The letter also said that Erdoğan would gladly return the award.