World Jewish News
The Israeli people has a 'deep, natural, longstanding' sympathy for the Kurdish people
“I understand why those who support Hamas want to see the Mossad in every uncomfortable place, but Israel had no part in the referendum of the Kurdish people, apart from the deep, natural, longstanding sympathy of the people of Israel for the Kurdish people and their yearnings”.
This recent statement by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came in response to an attack by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the presence of Israeli flags during celebrations of the “yes” vote in Kurdistan proved that Israel was involved in the vote.
Erdogan said that the Kurdish administration has a history with Mossad: “They are hand-in-hand together”.
The population of Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the 25 September vote. Israel is the only country to support Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s decision to call the referendum.
Last week, Erdogan advised Israel to “review” its support for Kurdish independence or risk jeopardising “a lot of steps that we were about to take with Israel”.
Turkey and Israel normalized their relations after an agreement was signed in June 2016 which ended a six-year diplomatic freeze, after an incident in 2010 when nine Turkish citizens were killed trying to prevent Israeli commandos taking control of a ship the Mavi Marmara, trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza.
Israeli officials have been broadly supportive of the Kurdish drive for independence, with Netanyahu stating on 13 September that ‘’Israel rejects the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization, as opposed to Turkey, which supports the terror organization Hamas. While Israel rejects terror in any form, it supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of its own."
“I fully support the Kurdish people’s right to national self-determination,” said Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party.
“The Jewish people know what it is to struggle for an independent homeland and the Kurds have a moral right to a state of their own,” Lapid stressed.
Lapid’s comments come on top of other recent comments in favor of Kurdish independence in Israel – the only country to support Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s decision to call the referendum.
Kurds have a long history of connections to Israel, both when Jews lived in Kurdistan before the foundation of Israel and after, when Israel sent clandestine assistance to Kurds resisting Iraqi oppression. In recent years Israeli politicians have increasingly expressed open support for Kurds.’’ In conversations I’ve had with Kurdish soldiers, politicians and locals, they generally see Israel and their people as facing the same enemies, whether it is Saddam Hussein’s genocide in the 1980s or Islamist extremism such as ISIS more recently. Today Iran and its Shia militias across the region threaten Kurds and Israel,’’ wrote veteran Israeli diplomat Oded Eran, currently a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies.
‘’The roots of Israeli support for Kurdistan were sown in the mid-1950s. For Israel, the support, mostly in security, was part of an effort to break the political siege imposed by the surrounding Arab world. The Kurds, who lost their chance at independence in when the Second World War hastened the end of the old era of colonialism, kept the hope alive in the post-war era and were grasping for any help they could get. Israel, being the only non-Arab state without a Kurdish minority in the region, was a natural ally.’’
Several American Jewish leaders and organizations have also expressed their affinity with Kurdish aspirations following the independence referendum in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.
“Obviously, we have great sympathy for the Kurds,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The close ties between Israel and the Kurdish national movement, and the role played by many Kurds in assisting Iraqi Jews escaping from the former Ba’athist regime, were all highlighted by Jewish leaders.
“Israel, over the years, has helped the Kurds in various ways, and so have Jews from America and Europe,” Hoenlein explained. “The Kurds openly proclaim their pro-Israel position. You see Israeli flags at their demonstrations, which is great.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, compared the Kurdish struggle for independence with that of Israel during its critical early years, noting that like the builders of the Jewish state, the predominantly Muslim Kurds – a nation of more than 25 million currently split between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria – have been frequently left in the lurch by the international community.
“We know what a great struggle Israel endured, so we empathize with the Kurds.We had the same game played on us that’s now being played on them,” he added.
Morton Klein president of ZOA, the Zionist Organization of America, said that the Kurds ''have been one of the very few positive and rational forces in the Mideast, who have suffered greatly at the hands of radical Muslims.”
“The ZOA supports independence for this deserving and embattled people,” he added.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah described the referendum as part of a US-Israeli plot to carve up the region.
The people of Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the 25 September vote.