Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday referred to Israel as “a terrorist state,” a remark that the Obama administration has yet to challenge.
“Israel is a terrorist state,” Erdogan said at an Islamic conference in Istanbul. He also accused Western nations of ignoring the “sufferings of Muslims in Palestine, Syria and Myanmar because of lack of oil.”
For its part, the White House has chosen silence as its response to Erdogan’s intensely anti-Israel rhetoric, a policy that the Associated Press’ Matt Lee seems to think does more harm than good.
“How do you — this whole thing of saying nothing, I’m not sure I understand why you think that that’s helpful to the situation. You say that it would not be helpful for you to discuss any of your conversations, that quiet diplomacy is the way to de-escalate that. Well, you’ve been doing your quiet diplomacy now for almost a week. How’s it going so far?” Lee asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during Monday’s press briefing.
“We are working hard with the parties. We’re working hard with –” she began to reply.
“Hasn’t it occurred to anybody that maybe being less quiet might get more results, though? Squeaky wheel gets grease, that kind of thing?”
“I’ll let the –”
“You’re being silent while people are dying left and right.”
“Matt, we are being far from silent. The President has –”
“You’re not telling us anything about what you’re – when the Turks come out – when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that – or maybe you do agree with it – that’s being silent.”
“Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically. We have been very, very clear about where we stand on this, which is that – which is –”
“And that’s because you don’t practice diplomacy from the podium? Is that what you’re getting back to?”
Watch the exchange here:
Nuland tried to stave off Lee’s tough questions by noting that the White House has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.
“And yet you won’t stick up for your ally, Israel, when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they’re engaged in terrorism in Gaza?” Lee asked.
“We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel’s security, about the fact that Israel has a right to self-defense, but I am not going to go further than that today, Matt,” Nuland responded.
“Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?”
“Because I’m not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?”
“And you think that that’s worse? A public spitting match with one of your allies is worse than hundreds of people dying every day?”
Finally Nuland conceded, “Rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment.”
UPDATE: It looks like Matt Lee’s tough questions have paid off. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a Tuesday press conference took a much harder stance against Prime Minister Erdogan’s remarks:
Some of the extremely harsh rhetoric coming from Turkey, we do not consider helpful at all and of course we don’t agree with some of these very difficult statements that have been coming (from) there, and we have made those views clears to the Turks.
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Front page photo source courtesy Getty Images.