The speaker of the Turkish parliament took advantage of a ceremony honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day to attack Israel over its “massacres” in Gaza.
Tuesday’s ceremony in Ankara marked the first time that Turkey marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was recognized by the UN in a 2005 resolution.
According to the Hurriyet newspaper, the speaker, Cemil Cicek, said at the ceremony that commemorating the tragedies of the past, particularly the Holocaust, does not mean the killings of more than 2,000 children and women by Israeli security forces should be ignored.
“I hope the pain suffered during this war will never be repeated and will constitute a lesson for future generations. Humanity, unfortunately, was not able to prevent such an atrocity at that time. I believe everyone and every country will draw conscientious lessons from this and will exert efforts in order to not experience such inhumane tragedies again,” he said.
Cicek said that it would be “impossible” to bring peace to the Middle East “unless this conflict is settled and an independent Palestine is formed.”
“In these days when we commemorate the pains of the past, nobody can ignore the massacring of more than 2,000 children and women during the latest Gaza attack. Therefore, I want to say that we should seek a holistic settlement to the problem if we are to find a solution, by looking at the greater picture,” he added.
Cicek also touched on the aftermath of the recent Paris terror attacks, saying that hate speech and Islamophobia were a great danger and describing as "unacceptable" statements that incriminate all Muslims for the attacks.
“Members of a certain religion cannot be blamed because of the names or symbols that terrorists use,” he said, calling on "intellectuals, politicians and academics" to draw attention to this point.
“Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other sorts of racism, discrimination and xenophobia are maladies that are fed from the same swamp. It is not possible to fight against any of them without drying the swamp itself,” he added.
Responding to Cicek’s attacks on Israel during the ceremony, Israel said the Turkish speaker had “misused” the commemoration.
Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told Reuters that Cicek "unjustly and harshly criticized (Israel) at a moment that is absolutely inappropriate."
"Israel expresses its disappointment that a solemn event of an international nature dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust victims was misused in order to criticize Israeli policies," Nahshon said.
The Holocaust commemoration ceremony – and Cicek’s remarks – come amid continuing tensions and concerns over anti-Semitism in Turkey.
American officials expressed deep concern in recent months over the rising levels of anti-Semitism in Turkey. A report late last year revealed that young Turkish Jews were leaving the country in droves as a result of the anti-Semitism.
Turkey has seen a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes since the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist AKP party. Although violent attacks are still relatively rare, anti-Jewish incitement has become commonplace.
Most recently, the governor of the northwestern province of Edirne was accused of inciting hatred towards the country's Jewish community, after suggesting a synagogue be turned into a museum as a reprisal for Israel's policies over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu both recently verbally attacked Israel, with Davutoglu even accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of committing crimes against humanity comparable to those behind the Paris attacks.