Erdogan and Trump
Erdogan and TrumpReuters

President Trump has said he is a “big fan” of Turkish leader Recep Erdogan. Yet just a few days ago, Erdogan hosted a Palestinian delegation that included a terrorist who murdered an American teenager—and the White House hasn’t said anything about it. Something’s not right.

NBC News posted a photograph of Erdogan meeting with a Hamas delegation in Istanbul. The visitors included Saleh el- Arouri, a wanted terrorist. A U.S. government website explains why there is a $5-million reward for information leading to el-Arouri’s capture:

“He funds and directs Hamas military operations in the West Bank and has been linked to several terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings. In 2014, al- Arouri announced Hamas’s responsibility for the June 12, 2014 terrorist attack that kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, including dual U.S.-Israeli citizen Naftali Fraenkel. He publicly praised the murders as a ‘heroic operation’.”

Significantly, in September 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated al- Arouri as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist ( SDGT) pursuant to Executive Order 13224, an action that imposed sanctions on his financial assets. That move demonstrated even further that the U.S. government—at that time, it was the Obama administration—is thoroughly convinced of el-Arouri’s guilt.

Obviously the Turks know exactly who el- Arouri is. Yet they didn’t arrest him and hand him over to the United States. They didn’t even bar him from entering their country. The Turkish president acted is if he couldn’t care less what the U.S. government thinks—or as if they think that the U.S. isn’t serious about the issue.

For the past several years, President Trump has repeatedly gone out of his way to praise Erdogan. This has discomfited supporters of Israel, who are all too familiar with Erdogan’s anti-Israel tirades, comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany, and the like. But friends of Israel held their fire, refraining from criticizing President Trump in the hope that his overtures would lead to some unforeseen benefits.

Shortly after the Trump administration took office, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey and heaped praise on Erdogan, despite the Turkish leader’s suppression of civil rights and the news media. A few weeks later, Mr. Trump telephoned Erdogan to congratulate him on winning a referendum that endorsed Erdogan’s authoritarian leadership. Human rights advocates said the vote was rife with corruption and did not deserve American praise.

There were a few ups and down in U.S.-Turkish relations, but by late 2019, Erdogan was back in President Trump’s good graces. After complaining about Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system, the Trump administration refused to impose sanctions as a penalty. Trump also said nothing about Turkish actions in Syria and Libya.

Then, at a press conference with Erdogan last November, President Trump hailed Turkey as a “great NATO ally” and said he was “a big fan” of Erdogan. The Turkish dictator called Trump “my great friend.”

After a phone call between the two leaders in June, Erdogan said they shared “jokes” and “ after our conversation tonight, a new era can begin between the United States and Turkey.” According to Erdogan, he and Trump “came to some agreements” during the call regarding Turkey’s military intervention in Libya.

I don’t know how Erdogan defines a “great friend,” but in my book, if he was really a great friend of America’s president, he would not host a terrorist whom the U.S. is pursuing because he murdered an American teenager.

That $5-million reward is a good thing, and pro-Israel activists were pleased when, many years ago, the State Department belatedly began including a few Palestinian terrorists in its “Rewards for Justice” program. I was one of the many who pushed the State Department to do so. But posting rewards is useful only if the administration is serious about actually capturing the terrorists. A reward for information leading to a terrorist’s capture is meaningless if the terrorist openly travels around the world, meeting with the president of Turkey without fear that either the Turks or the Americans will arrest him.

Likewise, there is a $5-million reward for the capture of Ahlam Tamimi, who was the mastermind of the 2001 bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem (15 dead, including two Americans). Tamimi lives openly in Jordan, and even hosted her own television program for a while, yet despite pressure from Malki Roth's parents and their supporters, the U.S. has never even asked Jordan to extradite her. What’s the point of offering money to “find” her, when the U.S. already knows exactly where she is?

The bitter truth is that the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, whether under Bush, Obama, or Trump, has never taken the pursuit of Palestinian Arab killers of Americans seriously. More than 140 Americans have been killed by Palestinians, yet most of the suspects in the cases (including some of the suspects identified in connection with the murder of my daughter, Alisa) are not included on their site.

When the president of the United States stops praising Islamist strongmen like Erdogan, and starts taking concrete action to apprehend Palestinian killers of Americans whose whereabouts are already known, then we’ll know that he’s serious about bringing the killers to justice. Until then, it all looks like lip service to me.

Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” is now available on Kindle. He is now an Israeli citizen.