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WASHINGTON - Major mainstream U.S. Jewish groups are now trying to calm the situation with Turkey, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's harsh criticism of Israel's military campaign in Gaza was earlier met with equally fiery responses of their own.
A latest written statement by the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, a key group on worldwide Jewish rights, made this new approach to avoid a public war of words with Erdoğan clear. The ADL even praised one of the latest comments by the Turkish prime minister.
The ADL's National Director, Abraham Foxman, said that the group welcomed Erdoğan's early Friday statement that his criticism of the Israeli government was not directed toward the Israeli people or Jews, according to an ADL statement released late Saturday.
Israel's 22-day military operation in Gaza between late December and mid-January that killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians, about half of which were children and other civilians, sparked protests across Turkey and drew accusations of atrocity from Erdoğan and his government. But Turkish also anger burst onto the world stage Jan. 29, when Erdoğan exchanged heated words with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"When it comes to killing, you know how to do it too well," Erdoğan said after Peres, pointing a finger at him, said Turkey would have done the same if rockets had been fired on Istanbul. Erdoğan then stormed off the stage, where he and Peres were debating, accusing the moderator of not allowing him to speak.
"We welcome Prime Minister Erdoğan's comment upon returning to Istanbul that his criticism was not directed toward the Israeli people or Jews," Foxman said. "We believe that a more moderate tone in the prime minister's criticism of Israel would help to tamp down the recent outpouring of anti-Semitism in Turkey."
The ADL and Foxman also praised Peres for his "reasoned and principled response" to Erdoğan's denunciation of Israel at Davos and "reaching out to the Turkish prime minister by telephone immediately after the event to clear the air and calm the situation." ADL's criticism of Erdoğan was markedly softer than some earlier Jewish responses.