Do not discriminate, Gül

ANKARA - President Abdullah Gül warned the public not to turn the criticism of Israeli policy in Gaza into an anti-Semitic campaign and called for respect for Turkey's Jewish citizens.

"I am addressing all my citizens from here. Do not discriminate. Everyone has equal rights." Gül said to reporters yesterday before departing for Saudi Arabia.

"Turkish Jews are equal citizens of Turkey. They can be elected lawmakers and president. There cannot be a stance taken against them," he said and then repeated the statements made by the prime minister who said his criticism targeted the Israeli policy in Gaza, not the Jews.

"Citizenship is the essence of our Constitution. In every society, there might be those who make mistakes but they should be warned," Gül said.

In response to a question about bilateral ties with Israel, Gül said, without elaborating, that the statements made by both Israeli and Turkish officials were clear and warned that speculations should not be given attention. After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's heated confrontation with the Israeli president at a Davos panel last week, Israeli officials called for calm and Turkey's government spokesman Cemil Çiçek said Ankara wants to preserve ties with Tel-Aviv.

The president also answered the comments made after the government's strong rhetoric against Israel that Turkey lost its credibility as an honest peace broker in solving regional conflicts. "Why should Turkey be concerned? Turkey is not benefiting from mediation. If there is a problem, the parties in the dispute will lose," he said.

Gül also defended Turkey's policy of recognizing Hamas as a legitimate interlocutor. "Hamas must be involved in the political process. Some say this openly and some during our private meetings. Turkey has acted responsibly from the very beginning, met with Hamas on the days when they won the elections (in 2006) and warned them about the consequences when they resorted to the wrong paths," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, who held an almost one-hour meeting with Erdoğan yesterday, said they discussed Middle East peace. Speaking to reporters in Turkish following the meeting, Jeffrey said Turkey and the United States were two strong democracies and allies. When asked about concerns that the Jewish lobby in the United States may not support Turkey if the alleged Armenian genocide bill is discussed in the Senate, he said the United States had good relations with Turkey, adding that the two were working together despite occasional problems.

When asked if there is hope for a solution in Gaza, he said; "There is hope. That’s why (U.S. special envoy for Middle East) George Mitchell visited the region. But this is an important issue so we're in constant contact with both Turkey and the countries in the region."
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