Turkey's prime minister is facing mounting international criticism after calling Zionism "a crime against humanity" and likening it to Fascism and anti-Semitism.
The comment by Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a United Nations conference to promote religious tolerance earned him a rebuke from Israel, the United Nations and the United States, overshadowing a visit by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, for talks with Mr Erdogan on Syria.
Speaking to the global forum of the Alliance of Civilisations in Vienna on Wednesday, Mr Erdogan said: "As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity."
During a press conference yesterday with Ahmet Davutoglu, his Turkish counterpart, Mr Kerry said he found the remarks "objectionable" and that they complicated efforts to find peace in the Middle East.
He said he would raise the speech with Mr Erdogan.
A senior US official travelling with Mr Kerry said Turkish officials would be left in no doubt about Washington's annoyance. "This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity," the official said.
The Obama administration has sought to maintain close ties with Turkey, a majority Muslim country and Nato ally, despite its deteriorating relationship with Israel, partly because of its potential to be a broker in the civil war in Syria.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, had called Mr Erdogan's comment "a dark and mendacious statement, the likes of which we thought had passed from the world".
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, who was present at Mr Erdogan's speech, said it breached the spirit of the Alliance of Civilisations, which was formed in 2005 – with Turkey as a co-sponsor – to promote East-West understanding and combat extremism.
Relations between Israel and Turkey, once close allies, have been strained since 2010 when nine Turkish activists died after Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip. Mr Netanyahu has resisted Turkish pressure to apologise and pay compensation.
Mr Erdogan, a former Islamist, has sharply criticised Israel in the past, although he has refrained from attacks on Zionism. In 2009, he stormed out of a debate with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after telling him: "You Israelis know how to kill." (© Daily Telegraph, London)