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Erdoğan-linked ship was loading cargo in Israel at height of Gaza conflict: journalist

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According to an investigative journalist citing data from the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s eldest child, Burak Erdoğan, may be the owner of a shipping company that was loading cargo in Israel during the height of the conflict in October – despite the Turkish leader’s anti-Israel rhetoric, which has culminated in him repeatedly accusing Israel of being a “terrorist state” while praising Hamas as “liberators.”

The Halit Yıldırım, owned by Manta Denizcilik, departed from the Port of İskenderun, operated by the pro-Erdoğan Limak business group, on Oct. 11 and arrived at Israel’s Ashdod Port on Oct. 14. After loading its cargo, it set sail for Florida on Oct. 18, according to an investigation by journalist Metin Cihan, the details of which he shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Manta Denizcilik is owned by Mert Çetinkaya, who also co-owns MB Denizcilik shipping company with Burak Erdoğan, according to journalist Cihan, who also noted the shared addresses of these companies.

Although Burak is not the owner of the company, critics of President Erdoğan assume that is the case, because the Turkish leader is accused of amassing large amounts of illegal wealth through front companies set up by his family or cronies, allegations that further became credible when a confidant detailed the corrupt practices in May.

Erdoğan’s son Burak’s shipping business has been targeted by critics since the early years of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan referred to the ships owned by his son as “shiplings” (coining the word “gemicik” with a Turkish diminutive) when responding to a question about whether it was ethical for his son to engage in such a lucrative trade in cargo while ruling Turkey, in an attempt to downplay his son’s business.

After Palestinian militant organization Hamas launched attacks on southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and resulted in the taking of 240 hostages, Israel retaliated by pounding Gaza, leading to thousands of civilian casualties.

Israel’s harsh response drew criticism from around the globe, while backlash in the Islamic world was particularly pronounced. Turks took to the streets to protest Israel, while vigilante boycotts against pro-Israel companies degenerated into mobs attacking customers for choosing the wrong coffee shop to frequent.

Erdoğan, who long marketed himself in the Muslim world as the champion of Palestinian rights and a strong critic of Israel, was unusually moderate in his tone in the initial days of the conflict and even offered to mediate between the sides.

However, as public outrage grew over the death toll in Gaza, the Turkish president could not afford to remain silent and unleashed a harsh rhetoric that has shown no signs of abating.

The peak anger over the Israeli response came on Oct. 17, when news broke that an Israeli strike hit Al-Ahli Arab Hospital hospital in Gaza, which local authorities said killed 500 people taking shelter on the premises.

Israel denied responsibility for the attack, and later investigations reached different conclusions, with organizations such as Human Rights Watch concluding that it was a rocket commonly used by Palestinian groups that caused the explosion and others like the London-based Forensic Architecture saying that the strike came from the Israeli-controlled perimeter of Gaza.

No matter who the actual culprit is, Turks believe Israel carried out the strike. Turkey declared a three-day period of mourning period after the attack.

What Cihan’s report shows Turks is that Erdoğan, who is riding the pro-Palestinian wave and takes on Israel with harsh criticism, might be a beneficiary of a shipping trade involving Israeli ports, all while his base’s vigilantism leads them to attack Starbucks customers since they believe the chain is pro-Israel.

“In summary, on Oct. 17, while President Erdoğan was condemning Israel for bombing a hospital, his son Burak Erdoğan’s company was loading cargo at an Israeli port. On Oct. 28, while Erdoğan again railed against Israel and called for a protest, his son’s ship loaded its cargo and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar,” journalist Cihan tweeted.

Cihan also pointed out that President Erdoğan was a witness at Çetinkaya’s wedding, suggesting close ties between Çetinkaya and the Erdoğan family.

The revelation drew the ire of critics who pointed out the hypocrisy of condemning Israel at the government level while privately pursuing a lucrative trade with the country.

Cihan had previously uncovered the scale of Turkey’s trade with Israel, saying on Nov. 11 that 253 ships have sailed from Turkey to Israel since Oct. 7, carrying cargo such as crude oil, fuel, iron and steel. Cihan also shared a list of ships transporting the goods from Turkey to Israel, emphasizing that the shipments are still ongoing.

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