He’s a saber-rattling authoritarian who jails journalists and opponents, threatens neighbors and wants to rebuild an Islamist empire.
But to Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of the anti-Israel group American Muslims for Palestine, Turkey’s president is “a leader in the meaning of the word, and a legitimate ruler, and he is above this and is humble in manners.”
Abuirshaid raced onto Facebook Monday with Ed Grimley-like excitement to tell the Arabic-speaking world about his latest meeting with his newest, bestest pal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan keeps a busy social calendar. Two days earlier, he hosted a Hamas delegation which included the group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh.
That prompted a rebuke from the U.S. State Department against the head of its NATO ally.
“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the State Department said. “We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas leadership to Turkey this year with the first meeting occurring February 1.”
Erdogan’s support for Hamas, however, runs much deeper than a meeting.
“Turkey has given passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul,” Reuters reported Wednesday, citing a senior Israeli diplomat.
“These are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza,” an unnamed source told the Telegraph earlier this month. “[They] are actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day.”
Those tasks are made easier for Hamas operatives carrying Turkish passports, who can travel more freely throughout the world.
And that support might help explain Abuirshaid’s giddiness about meeting with Erdogan. A dossier published last month by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) chronicled Erdogan’s connections to two groups which were part of a U.S.-based Hamas support network, and how his organization, AMP continues to engage in similar fundraising, propaganda and lobbying today.
Abuirshaid’s embrace of Erdogan’s Turkey dates back years. In 2016, for example, he posted a picture of himself shaking Erdogan’s hand. Erdogan’s foes, Abuirshaid wrote, “hate him because he stands with the ambitions of Arab peoples with freedom and dignity…They hate him because he said no to Israel and stepped on decades of Turkey’s collusion with the time of ′secularists′ rule …”
Last February, Abuirshaid spoke in Istanbul at the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad. “America,” he said, “represents the umbilical cord to the existence of that state [Israel] and the endurance of its power and to remain the dominant power in the region, which enjoys all of the American support that practically made it the number one power in the entire region.”
And a related IPT video shows Abuirshaid blaming Israel for virtually all Middle East turmoil.
When tearing down Israel is your life, face time with a stalwart Hamas supporter like Erdogan does seem like a big deal.
Monday’s meeting wasn’t planned, Abuirshaid explained. He was among a group U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) members en route to Lebanon to see the damage done by the Aug. 4 ammonium nitrate explosion at Beirut’s port – a flight that stops in Istanbul – so they thought, ‘Why not see if Tayyip is around?’
Okay, we’re embellishing. Abuirshaid didn’t write it like that. But he did note that they received an immediate response and the meeting was on. But our snark is justified as the following extended excerpt of Abuirshaid’s fawning post, translated by the IPT, shows:
I was asked to read a certain topic, and I was honored. I addressed him: ′′Mr. President,” and he addressed me with ′′Osama,” “Mr. Osama,” and sometimes he addresses us all with ′′my brothers.”
After we finished he gave us a group of gifts of high symbolic value, one of which is his vision for new Turkey, and the book below is signed in my name.
Don’t blame people for their love of Erdogan, as he is the maker of the renaissance of his country, and the supporter of many oppressed people, in Palestine, Syria, Libya… etc.
Some will claim that he only cares about Turkey’s interests, although this is half the truth, he also cares about the pride of Muslims, I reply by saying, I wish many of our leaders would be like him and also care about their country’s interests.
Abuirshaid posted this image from the autographed book Erdogan gave him.
Turkey’s economy has suffered greatly under Erdogan and may be on the brink of collapse. He has fighters in Libya, Syria and Iraq and is widely believed to harbor aspirations to be seen as the leader of the Sunni world.But he’s hostile toward Israel and supportive of Hamas. To Abuirshaid, that’s all that matters.
Research Analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.
This column was originally published at The Investigative Project on Terrorism
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.