Yesterday, the details of a major public spat between the president of Israel and the Turkish prime minister were revealed to the Israeli public.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got up and left the stage during a panel discussion on the Middle East, held on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the beginning of what became a war of words with the Israeli president.
The recent warfare in Gaza lay at the heart of the vociferous, emotional dispute with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The harsh incident, which caused astonishment among the thousands of participants, happened after Mr. Erdogan requested to respond to the Israeli president’s comments. Mr. Peres, at the time, had been presenting an impassioned defense of the recent Israeli Gaza incursion.
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Mr. Peres, who appeared agitated and spoke excitedly, charged Hamas with responsibility for the violence. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan tried to interrupt Mr. Peres and accused Israel of deliberating targeting civilians.
“Peres, you are older than me,” Mr. Erdogan said. “Your voice comes out in a very high tone. And the high tone of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience, you killed civilians and children in Gaza. This is murder. Previous prime ministers of Israel took pride of the fact that they went into Gaza on tanks.”â€¨
As a result of the harsh exchange, it was evident that even Mr. Peres lost his characteristic calm for a short time.
He even waved his finger at Mr. Erdogan, asking him what he would do were rockets being fired at Istanbul every evening. At the end of Mr. Peres’ statements, which were applauded by many of the spectators, Mr. Erdogan asked to respond again.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, the panel’s moderator, agreed to only give him an additional minute because his time was up.
Mr. Erdogan did not back down. “I consider it very sad that people are applauding your statements, a great many people were killed in Gaza.”
When the moderator repeated that he would have to end his statements, Mr. Erdogan continued to insist, “Just let me finish, let me finish,” and grasped Mr. Ignatius’ arm.
When Mr. Ignatius demanded of him once more to give others the right to speak, Mr. Erdogan responded aggressively:
“Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I don’t think I will return to Davos. I am not permitted to speak here,” he said, leaving the stage angrily.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also participated in the panel, appeared embarrassed, as did other people who were present.
“I have known Shimon Peres for many years,” said former Norwegian President Kjell Bondevik after the incident, “And I have never seen him as upset as today.”
At a press conference that he held a short time following the incident, Mr. Erdogan claimed Mr. Ignatius had not treated him fairly, complaining Mr. Peres had been granted twice the time that he had.
Responding to a question to an Israeli journalist in Davos, Mr. Erdogan replied that it would be necessary to further assess how this incident would affect Turkish-Israeli relations. He said that he respected Mr. Peres as well as his age, but the latter had spoken loudly and improperly.
He said he was the Turkish prime minister, not the Hamas prime minister.
Mr. Erdogan also accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of having dishonored him by meeting him in Turkey several days before the military operation and not informing him of Israel’s plans.
Responding, Mr. Peres defended Mr. Olmert and claimed that the decision to embark on the operation had not yet been made at the time of this visit.
Mr. Erdogan expressed further frustration that he had been preparing for continued talks with Syria and that the Israeli military operation had brought these to a freeze. In a television interview, several hours before the incident, Mr. Erdogan called on President Barack Obama to redefine the concept of terror as well as terrorist organizations in the Middle East and formulate a new policy for the region.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org