Speaking to American Jewish leaders in New York City on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will visit Israel, in a behind-closed-doors announcement that comes just over a month after Turkey and Israel announced the full restore diplomatic relations.
Turkey’s president, who is in New York this week for the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, made the pledge during an hour-long meeting with Jewish leaders held at Turkey’s UN office in Manhattan, according to an attendee who spoke with Jewish insider on Monday evening. The event was organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Erdogan did not say when he planned to travel to Israel. Instead, he said he first wanted “several” of his own ministers in front of him to lay the groundwork for a visit, according to the attendee, who requested anonymity to discuss the confidential meeting. “Then he said it was appropriate that he go,” the contestant recalled.
The Announcement – Details were first reported by the Jewish Telegraph Agency – comes amid renewed warming of Turkey-Israel relations, which had essentially been frozen since 2010, when Israeli security forces carried out a deadly raid on a Turkish aid fleet bound for Gaza.
But in recent months Turkey has maintained a friendlier relationship with Israel as Erdogan tries to stave off an economic crisis ahead of next year’s presidential election. For its part, Israel has strengthened its ties with several Muslim-majority countries in the region thanks to the Abraham Accords, which recently celebrated its second anniversary.
In March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog traveled to Turkey, marking the first visit by an Israeli leader to Ankara in 14 years.
During Monday’s talks with Jewish leaders, Erdogan, who was accompanied by about half a dozen ministers, “spoke very warmly of his meeting with Herzog,” the participant told JI.
Turkey’s president delivered an opening speech, which the attendee called “forgiving” and said, “There is absolutely no justification for anti-Semitism.” Erdogan claimed to have “fought” anti-Semitism at home.
During most of the conversation, Erdogan answered questions from Jewish leaders, who asked, among other things, about Turkey’s ties to Hamas, which maintains a presence in Turkey.
A participant expressed concerns that there are photos of Erdogan meeting with Hamas officials, the participant said. In response, Erdogan said he was “open to talks with” Hamas “to keep the channels open,” the participant told JI. “He said you have to talk to everyone, but it’s on his terms.”
Erdogan did not address the nuclear deal with Iran, but touched on other “sensitive issues,” according to the participant. “He says what he wants to say,” said the participant about Erdogan. “He won’t say more.”