Turkey’s Minister of Religious Affairs Ali Erbas vowed over the weekend that “our struggle will continue until Jerusalem is completely free.”
The powerful religious scholar and voice in Turkey who is close to the country’s leadership and leading party, was speaking to an online forum of Palestinian scholars. The comments were reported in Turkish on T24 media.
He said that Jerusalem is a universal value and that “Islamic civilization has a memory of historical knowledge and values, and that it is never possible for Muslims to give up on the blessed city.” His views echo those of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who told a recent June 10 executive committee meeting that Turkey was putting its full support behind Palestinians against Israel’s annexation. “The ummah [Islamic community] will never give up on a sovereign Palestinian state with Quds al-Sharif as its capital.”
At @OIC_OCI Executive Committee Meeting held upon our initiative, emphasized Turkey’s full support to our Palestinian brothers&sisters against Israel’s blatant annexation plans.
Ummah will never give up on a sovereign Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital! pic.twitter.com/G9fAGzZJ7P
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) June 10, 2020
Erbas, who is also a professor, has as his Twitter background a photo of Jerusalem, not Mecca, which shows how Turkey’s government is trying to adopt the Palestinian cause and make Jerusalem an “Islamic” cause to rally the Middle East against Israel. It is part of an increasing Islamist rhetoric coming out of Turkey, where military campaigns have been compared to “jihad” and where Turkish-backed fighters call their enemies “atheists” and “infidels.” The rising rhetoric has also begun to suggest turning Hagia Sophia, the ancient church in Istanbul, into a mosque again.
Erbas wrote on June 10 that “conquest expresses a great ideal and moral value in Islamic thought; it is a blessed struggle.” The word “struggle” here to bless the conquest of Istanbul appears to be used in the same religious context as the vow to “struggle” for Jerusalem. The secular Turkish government had once eschewed these religious goals, but the current leaders of Turkey see their cause as increasingly religious. Turkey has met with Iran and Malaysia and other countries to discuss an Islamic currency and Islamic television station over the last year.
The comments by Turkey’s top religious official is an indication of how Turkey wants to oppose Israel’s plans for annexation. Erbas says that “those who occupy Jerusalem find courage because they see Islamic societies as scattered and weak.” This language is a reference to Israel and appears to hearken back to the period of Saladin, the Islamic leader who rallied the community against the Crusades.
The Turkish official appeared to channel the antisemitic comments that Malaysia’s leader Mahathir Mohamed is known for, accusing Israel of leading “the world to war and turmoil.” Mahathir had said in 2003 to the Organization of the Islamic Conference that “the Jews rule this world by proxy… not only are our governments divided, the Muslim ummah is also divided.”
The Turkish leadership now calls for Palestinian issues to be emphasized in education in Turkey and to strengthen the country’s connection to Al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem. “Our president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] advocates the loudest for the case of Jerusalem. Turkey will always be with all Muslims from East Turkestan [Xinjiang province in China] to Palestine.” The speech didn’t appear to mention Israel, suggesting that Turkey’s officials are increasingly spreading a message denying that Israel exists, similar to the messaging that Tehran’s regime uses.
Turkey’s foreign minister has said that Israel’s annexation plan “destroys all hopes” of lasting peace in the Middle East. Turkey has long hosted Hamas and sought to have Hamas play a larger role in Palestinian issues. Turkey’s foreign minister also refused to refer to Israel by name in the meeting of the Islamic Cooperation Executive Committee. “If the occupying power crosses the redline, we [Muslim countries] must show that this will have consequences.”
After US President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Turkey hosted a meeting of Islamic countries to coordinate efforts against American and Israeli policies.