Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called for more Muslims to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in order to help protect Islamic identity, according to various reports.
While about 26,000 Turks visited the holy site in 2016, Erdogan argued that “hundreds of thousands” should be visiting the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, according to International Business Times, and that visiting “would be the greatest support to our brothers there.”
Erdogan was speaking in Istanbul at the International Forum on Al-Quds Waqfs, which “aims to bring together waqfs working on Jerusalem all over the world … by establishing links between [them], and to explore opportunities for cooperation and cooperation between each other,” according to the forum’s website. Al-Quds is the Arabic term for the city of Jerusalem, and a waqf is “an Islamic endowment of property to be held in trust and used for a charitable or religious purpose,” according to Merriam-Webster.
The Turkish President also made strong statements regarding Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, comparing the country’s treatment of them to that of African-Americans in the United States and South Africa, the IBT reported.
CNN reported that “Erdogan criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘racist’ and ‘discriminatory’ and said permanent peace in the Mideast would be impossible without a solution to the Palestinian issue.”
“What’s the difference between the present acts of the Israeli administration and the racist and discriminatory politics that were [practiced] against black people in the past in America – and up until a short time ago in South Africa,” Erdogan said, according to the IBT.
“Both in terms of our religion and historical responsibility, Al-Quds and the fight of our Palestinian brothers for rights and justice is of great importance to us. We will keep making efforts for Al-Quds to turn into a city of peace,” Erdogan said, according to CNN.
The criticism is notable because Turkey and Israel only recently re-established diplomatic and ambassadorial ties, after a six-year suspension, according to various reports.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to Erdogan’s remarks, according to The Jerusalem Post, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon stated that “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”
During his address in Istanbul, Erdogan additionally spoke out about the Muezzin Bill, pending Knesset legislation that “would prevent mosques in Israel from using loudspeakers outside their buildings for prayer late at night and early in the morning,” according to The Jerusalem Post. The Knesset is Israel’s parliament or legislative body.