ANKARA: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday joined the United States and Israel in rejecting statements by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who compared Zionism to fascism at a United Nations meeting aiming to promote dialogue between all faiths.
Addressing the UN Alliance of Civilizations conference in Vienna this week, Erdogan complained of prejudices against Muslims and said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity ''just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and like fascism.''
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply condemned the remark late Thursday calling it a ''dark and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had passed from the world.''
In Washington, US National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said the characterisation about Zionism, the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state, was ''offensive and wrong.''
''We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times,'' he said.
Turkey is a co-sponsor, along with Spain, of the UN initiative to promote tolerance and understanding between various religions and a UN statement said: ''If the comment about Zionism was interpreted correctly, then it was not only wrong but contradicts the very principles on which the Alliance of Civilizations is based.''
The statement said Ban ''believes it is unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership.''
US State Secretary John Kerry is expected to raise the issue when he meets with Erdogan and other Turkish leaders in Ankara on Friday.
Turkey's state-run news agency, Anadolu, reported Erdogan's remarks on Wednesday but removed the reference to ''Zionism'' in a correction sent out an hour later. It said the correction was ''made by the source'' but gave no other explanation.
Turkey and Israel were once important allies but relations have deteriorated sharply after an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship in 2010 which killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.
Erdogan, whose ruling party has roots in Turkey's Islamic movement, frequently criticises Israeli actions against Palestinians but rarely speaks out against Zionism. In November, he accused Israel of state terrorism and of an ''attempt at ethnic cleansing,'' a euphemism used to describe how violence can be used to force a population from an area.