Istanbul (AFP) - 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.
The Gaza conflict has also put an end to any chance of Turkey and Israel normalising their relations, following the storming by Israel of a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza in 2010 that left 10 activists dead.
Erdogan famously stormed out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos in 2009, an action that was followed by a hero's welcome when he returned home.
In the current Gaza conflict over 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians while on the Israeli side, 56 people have been killed, most of them soldiers.