Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be "glad" to return an award given to him in 2004 by an American Jewish group, Turkey's embassy in the US said Tuesday, amid a growing controversy over the premier's anti-Israel remarks.
The American Jewish Congress had given Erdogan the Profile of Courage award in recognition of his efforts to seek peace in the Middle East but now wants the decoration to be returned after his repeated verbal assaults against Israel over the Gaza conflict.
Erdogan has slammed Israel's attacks on Gaza as a "genocide" of the Palestinian people and compared the actions of the Jewish State to those of Adolf Hitler.
"Attempts to depict Prime Minister Erdogan's legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government's attacks on civilians as expressions of anti-Semitism are an obvious distortion," Turkey's ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic wrote in a letter to the president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen.
Rosen had denounced Erdogan, whose office released a copy of the ambassador's letter, as "arguably the most virulent anti-Israel leader in the world" in asking for the award back.
"Prime Minister Erdogan would be glad to return the award given back in 2004," Kilic added, saying he had been instructed by Erdogan to pass on these remarks.
The "absence" of the award would not prevent Erdogan from working for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and protecting Turkey's own Jewish community, he added.
Kilic described attacks on Erdogan as "an effort to cover up the historic wrongdoings of the Israeli government."
It was not clear how and when the award would be returned.
Erdogan has long portrayed himself as a champion of the "Palestinian cause" and during the current crisis has made clear he sees himself as the sole Muslim leader standing up for their rights, while denying accusations of anti-Semitism.
Despite those denials, Erdogan has a long record of anti-Semitic statements. In 1998, prior to his stint as PM, Erdogan - then mayor of Istanbul - infamously declared that "the Jews have begun to crush the Muslims in Palestine, in the name of Zionism. Today, the image of the Jews is no different than that of the Nazis."
Earlier this month, the mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara - and a close ally of Erdogan - threw his support behind a high-profile Turkish pop singer who praised Hitler and posted a slew of other anti-Semitic messages on Twitter.
And more recently, anti-Israel campaigners called for a boycott of a popular Turkish author, purely due to the fact that he was Jewish.
Erdogan's own anti-Israel statements have made the prospect of a rebuilding of relations between the two countries - which soured in the aftermath of the infamous "Mavi Marmara" flotilla incident in 2010 - look increasingly unlikely.
Apart from comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, has in the past accused Israel of leading a "conspiracy" to overthrow his government, and in a recent heated exchange with a Turkish opposition activist referred to his opponent as "Israeli sperm".