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Turkish president's claim — ‘Jerusalem is our city’ — delusion or strategy?

The Turks have been pursuing a long-time strategy of investment in Jerusalem that some call a "quiet jihad"

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Photo: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS)

JERUSALEM — It may have seemed farfetched to many for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to claim that “Jerusalem is our city” in a speech to Turkish lawmakers on Thursday.

However, a little known fact is that Turkey has for several years pursued a strategy that some have labeled a “quiet jihad” in Jerusalem, investing in the local Palestinians, promoting Muslim tourism to the city and buying real estate with its sights, ultimately, set on control of the Temple Mount. 

“The president of Turkey … has decided to take action to implement his vision of restoring Islam's glory throughout ‘Palestine’ as a whole and Jerusalem in particular,” reported Nadav Shragai who has done extensive research on the topic.

In an interview with All Israel News, Shragai said the end goal is control over the Temple Mount. And unlike Iran, Shragai noted, Turkey is able to operate freely in the city. They are doing nothing illegal.

Erdoğan has been trying to achieve a “Turkish national awakening” in the eastern part of the city, which is home to a majority Arab population. The Turks opened a cultural center in the Old City, promote tourism from Turkey to Al Aqsa Mosque and have been distributing charity as a way of cementing their presence. It is a type of Islamic evangelism, called dawa.

“‘Dawa’ is by definition activity that focuses on charity, education, and social assistance in an attempt to bring people closer to Islam. In Israel, dozens of dawa groups are active and receive funding from Turkey,” Shragai wrote. “They help the Arab population with religious, cultural, community, and social matters, thus strengthening Turkey's influence in Israel, with special emphasis on Jerusalem.”

Erdoğan’s statement also comes at a time of intensified fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is supported by Turkey. The complicated relationship also involves Israel which sells arms to Azerbaijan, prompting Armenia to withdraw its ambassador to Israel suddenly on Thursday.

But in his speech in Ankara yesterday, Erdoğan felt the need to reiterate Turkish claims to Jerusalem.

“In this city that we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” he told Turkish lawmakers during a major policy speech in Ankara. “Our first qibla [direction of prayer in Islam] al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem are the symbolic mosques of our faith. In addition, this city is home to the holy places of Christianity and Judaism.”

Of course this brought instant criticism primarily from Jewish organizations. 

The American Jewish Committee posted a snide jab on Twitter: “So were Cairo, Athens, Budapest, Bucharest — and many more — at the height of the Ottoman Empire. But this is 2020, President Erdogan, and nostalgia isn't a policy. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs Israel, also fired back.

“‘Jerusalem is our city,’” Turkey's @RTErdogan declares - Just like Iran’s Ayatollah, this other dictator plays politics with Jerusalem to act like a big man in the Middle East, when his influence is waning and his leadership dragging Turkey down the drain,” he wrote.

Erdogan was referring to the Ottoman Empire which ruled over Jerusalem, and vast parts of the Middle East, from 1516 to 1917.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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