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Germany debates whether to cancel Erdoğan’s upcoming visit over remarks defending Hamas

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent comments defending Hamas have sparked a heated debate in Germany, leading to calls for the cancellation of his expected visit in mid-November, Deutsche Welle’s Turkish service (DW Türkçe) reported on Friday, citing reports from the German press.

Erdoğan’s characterization of Hamas as a group of “liberators” and his accusations of war crimes against Israel have sparked controversy, putting his planned trip under scrutiny.

Bijan Djir-Sarai, general secretary of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), a partner in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s tripartite coalition, has expressed intolerance of Erdoğan’s “hateful rhetoric towards Israel and solidarity with the terrorist organization Hamas.”

Speaking to German news agency dpa, Djir-Sarai insisted that the German government cannot overlook Erdoğan’s stance, stating that it must have consequences. He claimed that under these circumstances, hosting Erdoğan in Berlin should be questioned, labeling the visit “quite problematic.”

In contrast, Marie Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the Federal Defense Committee and a member of the same party, holds a different view. She described Erdoğan’s call to people for a faith war as if living in the Middle Ages “horrific,” yet emphasized the importance of maintaining dialogue. Strack-Zimmermann argued that preventing the Middle East from turning into a battleground is essential and suggested that Erdoğan could play a role in this context. She advocated for the German government to exert influence on Erdoğan but expressed doubts about the timing of the visit, suggesting that sitting at the same table is necessary but that the timing needs careful consideration.

In Germany there is a special sense of responsibility regarding Israel’s security due to the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews were murdered during the Nazi era.

Former chancellor Angela Merkel declared in 2008 that Israel’s security is considered “Staatsräson” — a fundamental interest of the state.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) lawmaker Macit Karahmetoğlu accused Erdoğan of trivializing the terrorist attacks on civilians in the Hamas-Israel conflict. He expects Chancellor Scholz to clearly state that Erdoğan’s attempts to downplay the crimes committed by Hamas are unacceptable.

Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the European Parliament from the Greens, another coalition partner, stressed that Chancellor Scholz and other Western leaders must do everything possible to end Erdoğan’s antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda.

The strongest criticism came from the youth organization of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) bloc.

Johannes Winkel, head of the youth organization, told the Bild newspaper, “Erdoğan was and still is an Islamist. He has been inciting against Israel for years, even in Germany.” Referring to Erdoğan’s description of Hamas as freedom fighters, Winkel argued that if Germany has any self-respect, it is the right time to cancel Erdoğan’s visit; otherwise, the commitment to the security of Jews and Israel as a state policy remains merely a quote of the day.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, also weighed in, condemning Erdoğan’s remarks as “extremely worrying” and stating that they incite enmity against Jews in Germany. He has communicated his concerns to Chancellor Scholz, insisting that the political consequences of Erdoğan’s behavior should be made very clear to him from Germany’s perspective.

The debate in Germany is not mirrored by the reactions to the visits of leaders from other Middle Eastern countries, such as the emir of Qatar and the king of Jordan, despite their connections to Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU, the US and Germany. Political scientist Dr. Salim Çevik from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW Türkçe that the reason for the stronger reaction to Erdoğan is his explicit pro-Palestinian stance and direct support for Hamas, raising the stakes higher than before.

The timing of Erdoğan’s visit coincides with a soccer match between Germany and Turkey at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. There had been speculation that Erdoğan and Chancellor Scholz might watch the match together. However, German government sources express concern that Erdoğan’s visit and potential statements could increase social unrest in Germany.

Dr. Çevik also points to apprehensions about Erdoğan’s potential harsh criticism of Germany’s stance. He anticipates that Erdoğan might accuse Germany of hypocrisy regarding international law, human rights and democracy. Çevik criticizes the West’s stance, suggesting that the open support for Israel’s bombardment and the criminalization of dissenting views within Germany have significantly damaged the country’s moral and rhetorical high ground.

The prevailing attitude in Europe, according to Çevik, is that criticism of Erdoğan or other autocratic leaders on human rights and the rule of law may backfire in the coming years.

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