Why Israel supports Kurdish referendum (and why the rest of the world should follow suit)

Kurdish girls in Massif Salahaddin, Iraqi Kurdistan © Jan Sefti

Today the women and men of Kurdistan will answer the most important question of their lives. Should Kurdistan break away from Iraq to pursue its independence, or should it preserve a status quo of unstable co-existence under the rule of the Iraqi state.

The Kurds in Iraq approach this fateful day with their homework being done. Since 1991, they have practiced self-rule. They have elected a parliament, written a constitution, built national institutions, engaged in a deadly war against ISIS, pushed back the murderous organization and defended their borders However, upon the historical decision to hold a referendum for their independence, which will then lead to negotiations with Iraq’s central government, the Kurds have awakened to the shortcomings of their efforts. At this crucial point in time, the Kurds have found themselves abandoned and standing there practically alone.

Surprisingly, the U.S superpower, which gained its own independence following a fateful decision to unilaterally break away from the British Empire, “strongly opposes” the Kurdish vote on independence, and “urges the KRG to engage in negotiations with Iraq”.

If my memory serves me correctly, soon after writing the declaration of Independence, America’s founding fathers voted on proclaiming Independence, to the demise of the British, who strongly opposed this audacious act.

Was American democracy in 1776 perfect? It certainly was not. Neither is the current Kurdish democracy. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the Kurds are not ready or eligible to their independence.

It is quite clear why the respective Iranian, Turkish and Iraqi governments are trying to intimidate and threaten Kurds with military invasion, blockade and other deterring measures. It is astonishing, however, why the US seems to be accommodating these countries interests rather than supporting its trusted allies in their legitimate quest for independence.

Thus far, the only country to openly declare its support of Kurdish independence has been Israel. It is no secret that Israel has maintained close relations with the Barazani family in Kurdistan over the years, and that many Kurds identify their own suffering with that of persecuted Jews. There are numerous reasons why many Israelis express support for the Kurdish cause. I will count few of them.

The first reason stems from morality. The Middle East is home to roughly 30 million Kurds, who reside in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They have remained the largest ethnic group to seek independence for many years.

In spite of the Kurds efforts, the world has shown little interest in their cause, and has stood idly by as they suffered ethnic cleansing, poison gas and torture.

Like the Jewish people, who hoped and prayed for world support in 1947, the Kurds are now seeking global support. Nearly 70 years ago the U.S claimed Israel’s declaration of Independence was premature as well.

However, based on their own experience, both the US and Israel can confirm that there is no time like the present for independence. It is important to stress that some Israelis who all together support the Kurds and at the same time object the Palestinian pursuit of independence, are contradicting themselves. They apply the same rhetoric vis-à- vis the Palestinians that Iran, Turkey and Iraq use vis-à-vis the Kurds. The circumstances are different, the conflicts are long and entangled, yet the quest of independence and the right for self-determination is of course similar.

The second reason concerns Middle East alliances. Israel was isolated from its neighboring countries for decades, as a result of deep animosity, wars and conflicts. Looking for allies and partners Israel reached out to the Kurdish people, Iran, Turkey and Sudan, in an attempt to form a so-called “periphery alliance”.

Some of these alliances were doomed to fall. Domestic changes in Iran, Turkey and Sudan put an end to this move. Islamic Republic of Iran became Israel’s archenemy, ties with Sudan were cut and relations with Turkey became weaker. The alliance between the Kurds and Israel, however, has proven to be the exception. The alliance is strategic, and not merely tactical, as Israel and the Kurds join forces in fighting various forms of Sunni and Shia Islamic radicalism, with the hope of building a prosperous, democratic and secure state.

To date, America’s “One Iraq” strategy has backfired, damaging both American and Israeli interests. Iran has largely spread its influence in Iraq and aims to achieve territorial continuity, so that it may rule over the vast territory between Tehran and Quneitra (Syria). Today, the Kurd’s autonomous region is nearly the only obstacle to fulfilling Iran’s plans.

If Iraqi Kurdistan becomes an independent state, Iran’s dream of extending hegemony over the Kurdish region will be ruined. Hence, supporting the Kurds is not only morally justified. Independent Kurdish state will without doubt stand in the way of Iran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East.

It is obvious that the time for Kurdish independence is now. The Kurds have suffered and struggled long enough for that. Their oppressors are dangerous to world’s order, stability in the region and democracy. Today the world must work with the Kurds to prevent bloodshed, ethnic cleansing, or, heaven forbid, another genocide.

Source: HuffPost

  • Ksenia Svetlova

    Member of the Israeli Knesset for the Zionist Union party, Head of the Knesset caucus for strengthening relations between Israel and the Kurdish people

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