Violent protests erupted at the Israeli embassies in Istanbul and Ankara on Thursday night, with throngs of shrieking Turkish demonstrators hurling rocks at the embassy and at staff, screaming hate slurs, and waving pro-Palestinian flags and banners.
Hundreds of protesters attacked the Israeli consulate in Istanbul while similar numbers sought to break into the residence of the ambassador in Ankara.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to halt the protests in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning but in Ankara they stood on the sidelines.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Friday that he would be retracting much of the Israeli embassy staff in Turkey following the senseless riots, citing safety concerns and growing anti-Israel incitement from the Turkish leadership.
“Foreign Minister (Avigdor) Lieberman issued a statement… following the demonstrations and instructed the Israeli consulate and embassy to reduce their diplomatic staff in Turkey,” an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told AFP, without stating the numbers concerned.
Liberman instructed the Foreign Ministry to clarify to the Turkish government that such incitement is unacceptable.
“Israel protests strongly this violation of diplomatic relations, including the Vienna Convention and others, which have been encouraged by the Turkish authorities during these protests,” he said. “We attribute the responsibility for the safety of Israeli citizens and embassy staff on the Turkish government.”
The move follows a number of inflammatory and anti-Semitic hate slurs from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has become increasingly vocal against Israel after the IDF moved to protect millions of Israelis from Hamas rocket fire.
Erdogan has threatened to end the normalization process with Israel over “state terrorism” before, and also accused Israel of “lies” because “not enough” Israeli Jews have died in the conflict.
“They say (Hamas) is firing rockets. But is there anybody who died?” he asked. “The number of Palestinians that you (Israel) killed is now 100. Their (Israel’s) life is based on lies.”
“You will first stop this oppression. If not, it is not possible to realize normalization between Turkey and Israel,” Erdogan said, on a separate occasion.
On Thursday night, he claimed Israel had a long history of “genocide” against Muslims, in a series of confused and violent slurs relating to the Ramadan fast.
“This is not the first time we have been confronted by such situations,” Erdogan told a meeting of Islamic scholars gathered in Istanbul for Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims. “Since (the creation of the state of Israel) in 1948 we have been witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every day and every month. But above all we are witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every Ramadan.”
Erdogan himself has also had a long public record of anti-Semitic statements, including several recently despite efforts to normalize relations.
Several months ago, Erdogan kicked and beat a protestor who approached the premier over the May 2014 Soma mine disaster.
“Why are you running away from me – Israeli sperm!” he shrieked, slapping the protester, in video footage uploaded to Sozcu TV. The word “sperm” is seen as a particularly offensive insult in Turkish. The footage later shows security forces beating the man.
In 1998, prior to his stint as PM, Erdogan – then mayor of Istanbul – infamously declared that “the Jews have begun to crush the Muslims in Palestine, in the name of Zionism. Today, the image of the Jews is no different than that of the Nazis.”
More recently, Erdogan accused Israel of being behind the ouster of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi.