The Turkish premier’s statement, made at a UN meeting in Vienna a day earlier, was also condemned by the head of Europe’s main rabbinical group who called it a “hateful attack” on Jews.
“Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become impossible not to see Islamophobia as a crime against humanity,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said at the UN Alliance of Civilisations forum, according to Turkish media reports.
Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed their ship carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza, under a naval blockade.
In recent weeks, there has been a run of reports in the Turkish and Israeli press about efforts to repair relations, including a senior diplomatic meeting earlier this month in Rome and military equipment transfers.
The reports have not been confirmed by either government. No one was immediately available from Turkey’s foreign ministry to comment on the new criticism from the rabbis or from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A statement from the Israeli premier’s office said he “strongly condemns (Erdo?an’s) statement about Zionism and its comparison to Nazism.”
The Zionist movement was the main force behind the establishment of the state of Israel.
“This is a dark and false pronouncement the likes of which we thought had passed into history,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, said Erdo?an’s criticism of Zionism amounted to anti-Semitism.
“This is an ignorant and hateful attack on the Jewish people and against a movement with peace at its core, which relegates Prime Minister Erdo?an to the level of (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, to Soviet leaders who used anti-Zionism as a euphemism for anti-Semitism,” Goldschmidt said in an emailed statement.
“The irony of these comments will not be lost on the families of those slaughtered during the Armenian genocide, a crime still not recognized by the Turkish government,” he added.
The White House also condemned the remarks.
“We reject Prime Minister Erdo?an’s characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
“We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times,” he said.
Armenians accuse Ottoman Turks of committing an orchestrated campaign of massacres against Christian Armenians during World War One.
Turkey, which was established as a republic after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, denies those killings were genocide and says both sides lost lives in internecine fighting during the chaos of war.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said on Friday that Erdogan’s description of Zionism as a crime against humanity was “hurtful and divisive”, adding to criticism of comments that risk deepening Turkey’s rift with Israel.
Ban’s spokesman said the secretary-general had heard Erdogan’s speech at a U.N. meeting in Vienna on Wednesday through an interpreter.
“The secretary-general believes is it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership,” the spokesman said in a statement.
The Conference of European Rabbis is an umbrella group of 700 religious leaders in Europe, where an estimated 1.7 millions Jewish people live. About 17,000 Jews live in Turkey, a country of 76 million people.
Meanwhile, a senior US official told reporters on Friday that Erdo?an’s comments equating Zionism with crimes against humanity is “particularly offensive” and has a “corrosive effect” on US-Turkish relations.
“This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity,” the senior US official told reporters as US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Ankara. “It does have a corrosive effect (on relations).”
“I am sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.
“Not that long ago (you) had these two countries demonstrating that a majority Muslim country could have very positive and strong relations with the Jewish state and that was a sign for the region (of what was) possible,” the US official said.