The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praises the Biden administration for rejecting the Republic of Turkey’s sovereign immunity claim, and supporting U.S. citizens and residents who sued Turkey after they were physically attacked by Turkish security forces and civilian supporters of radical Turkish President Recep Erdogan. The attacks took place during Erdogan’s visit to Washington, D.C. on May 16, 2017, where the plaintiffs had lawfully and peacefully assembled to protest Erdogan and his policies.
Turkey moved to dismiss the two separate but factually related lawsuits filed against it in federal district court, claiming that it had blanket sovereign immunity for any and all of the acts that occurred on May 16, 2017. After the district court denied Turkey’s motion to dismiss, Turkey appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a January 25, 2021 order, the Court of Appeals requested the United States’ views on the case and “in particular, on the source and scope of any discretion afforded to foreign security personnel with respect to taking physical actions against domestic civilians on public property (i.e., not on diplomatic grounds).”
In a brief filed on March 9, 2021, the United States expressed its agreement with the district court’s conclusion that Turkey was not immune from these lawsuits. Noting that whether a foreign nation’s entitlement to immunity is a fact-intensive inquiry, the United States relied on the district court’s review of extensive evidence submitted by the parties, including several videos of the attacks at issue. According to the evidence, Turkish security personnel struck and kicked the civilian protesters who had fallen to the ground, they chased and violently attacked many of the protesters who were running away from the scene, and they ripped up the protesters’ signs. The United States concluded that the district court’s account of the facts established that the use of force by Turkish security personnel was not protective in character, and that therefore, Turkey was subject to suit.
In addition to standing up for the protesters and against the violence of Turkey’s security detail, the United States’ position sends a strong message to Erdogan, Turkey’s president, who is a vicious antisemite and Israel-basher. Erdogan’s brazen Jew and Israel-hatred includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- In February 2013, when he spoke at a United Nations event devoted to dialogue between the West and Islam, Erdogan called Zionism – the expression of the Jewish people’s right to live in their religious and ancestral homeland – “a crime against humanity.”
- In August 2014, addressing hundreds of thousands of supporters at an election rally, Erdogan compared Israel to Hitler and falsely accused Israel of killing Palestinian Arab mothers. “Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target,” Erdogan told his cheering supporters. “They kill women so that they will not give birth to Palestinians; they kill babies so that they won’t grow up; they kill men so they can’t defend their country . . . . They will drown in the blood they shed,” he said.
- In December 2017, during a Justice and Development Party convention – which occurred just days after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem – Erdogan invoked a Muslim hadith that Hamas and other terrorist supporters commonly use to sanction the killing of Jews. He stated: “[T]hose who think they own Jerusalem better know that tomorrow they won’t be able to hide behind trees.” The full hadith says: “The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.”
- In December 2018, at a meeting of the Turkey Youth Foundation, Erdogan told Turkish youngsters that “the Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men, but also women and children when they fall on the ground.” He threateningly continued, “But as Muslims, we will confront these people [the Jews] if they have courage to deal with us and we’ll teach them a lesson.”
- On August 22, 2020, the day after the UAE and Bahrain agreed in to normalize relations with Israel, Erdogan welcomed the leaders of Hamas – a U.S.-designated terrorist group committed to the murder of Jews and to Israel’s destruction – to Istanbul. Ismail Haniyeh, a senior leader of Hamas, is a frequent VIP guest of Erdogan’s. In addition, Istanbul has served as a Palestinian Arab headquarters from where Hamas leaders have mobilized terror cells in Judea and Samaria.
Crediting the Biden administration for its position in the protesters’ suits against Turkey, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and Director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice stated: “We applaud the United States government under President Biden’s leadership for supporting the lawful and peaceful protesters against Erdogan, rather than deferring to the sovereign immunity claims of Turkey, whose president is an unabashed Jew-hater and Israel-hater, and whose regime expressed support for Hamas during Morton Klein’s and other Jewish leaders’ meetings with Erdogan and other Turkish officials. It’s a disgrace that Erdogan’s security forces would engage in unprovoked violence against individuals who were simply exercising their First Amendment rights to express their opposition to Erdogan and his policies. With the blessing of the United States, we at the ZOA hope that Turkey will be held accountable in these lawsuits and that the protesters will get the justice they deserve.”