The US has publicly said it does not agree with NATO ally Turkey in its criticism of Israel over ongoing air strikes on Gaza, but the revelation, in response to incessant questions from a journalist inquiring into the wisdom of US silence “while people are dying left and right," appeared to be a reluctant one.
President Abdullah Gül has said Israel used disproportionate force in responding to rocket attacks from Gaza, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an outspoken critic of Israel, described Israel on Monday as a "terrorist state" in reference to its bombardment of Gaza. He stepped up his accusations against Israel even further on Tuesday, saying Israel is implementing ethnic cleansing in Gaza and that the Palestinians are using their right to self defense, and rejecting statements from the West that Israel has the right to defend itself.
When reminded of Erdoğan's remarks describing Israel as a terrorist state, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a daily press briefing on Monday that she is “not going to get into ‘He said X and she said Y'.” But the journalist who first asked the question went on to question her refusal to comment on the Turkish statement or discuss the content of talks the US has been having with a number of countries, including Turkey. “You are being silent while people are dying left and right,” he said.
Nuland said the US has been “extremely clear about our concern for Israel's security, about the fact that Israel has a right to self-defense” and made it clear that she will not “go further than that today.” But then she was asked why she can't say that she does not agree with the Turkish leaders. “Because I'm not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We're just not going to do that, okay?” Nuland responded.
But as the exchange went on, Nuland said “We, of course, agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment.”
The exchange at the US State Department comes as Israel's offensive in Gaza is opening a rift between the US administration and Turkey. President Barack Obama has supported Israel's right to defend itself, while Erdoğan rejected this narrative, without openly naming Obama. “They say Israel is using its right to self defense. Israel is the attacker, yet they say it defends itself. What kind of justice is this?” Erdoğan said in a speech on Monday.