The state of Jewish-Kurdish relations

Wext: Thursday, 12.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


By Daniel Bart

11. 08. 2004 -
Most Kurds are familiar with the fact that Kurds and Jews have been friends for thousands of years. Most Jews are not. Most Arabs know that there is cooperation between Israel and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Officially, this is all very secret and based on plausible denial. Why is this so?

There was very close cooperation between Israel and the KDP in the years 1965-75. During most of that time there were usually some 20 military specialists stationed in a secret location in southern Kurdistan. Rehavam Zeevi and Moshe Dayan were among Israeli generals who served in Kurdistan.

The Israelis trained the large Kurdish army of Mustafa Barzani and even led Kurdish troops in battle. In 1966, Kurdish troops led by colonel Tzuri Saguy of Israeli military intelligence wiped out an entire Iraqi brigade, i.e. about 5 000 Iraqi soldiers. Israel was able to assist the Kurds only because the Shah and the United States allowed it to do so. Everything was “secret” as requested by Israel’s Kurdish partners.

Barzani’s royal “friend” in Teheran sold out the Kurds to Saddam in 1975. The KDP could no longer guarantee the security of the Israeli guests and they were thus evacuated. [...]

The malicious and libellous claim that Israel somehow abandoned its Kurdish allies is still promulgated by people with much Kurdish blood on their hands. The truth is that Israel never abandoned the Kurdish people despite the flaws of its Kurdish allies. The 1975 Iranian sell-out of the Kurds was a major strategic defeat for Israel in the region and was followed by an even greater strategic loss in 1979. This meant that Israel no longer had any ally to the east of Israel’s eastern front. There are two books published in Hebrew that describe the 1965-75 relationship.[1]

Israel has two ministries of foreign affairs. One is official and maintains embassies in foreign countries. The other is one of eight departments in the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations often known as the “Mossad” meaning “institute”. That second ministry of foreign affairs is called the Political Action and Liaison Department. This department maintains relations with friendly intelligence services as well as with countries with which Israel does not have official diplomatic relations. Contrary to what is usually assumed, Israel maintains good relations with most Arab regimes. It would be somewhat strange if the two KRG:s had less relations with Israel than have Israel’s Arab rivals.

The “secret” cooperation between Kurdistan and Israel is mainly in two fields. The first is in intelligence cooperation and this is hardly remarkable as half the world including many Muslim states have such relationships with Israel. The second is influence in Washington. American Jewish organizations share their political influence with Israel’s friends and allies inside and outside the US. Governments who in some way rely on Jewish political influence in the United States include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, India and Bulgaria. Again, Kurdistan is no exception. The Mossad even has an office in Amman, Jordan as well as offices in the capitals of Central Asia. All this is well known in the Middle East.

While the KRG has excellent relations with the government of Israel, it mismanages the relationship with the Jewish people. Most Kurds do not realize the potential in the Jewish-Kurdish relationship. This potential has not been realized as the relationship has been monopolized by two persons who do not even attempt to represent the interests of the Kurds in areas of Kurdistan outside the boundaries of Iraq.

There are two million Kurds and two million Jews in Europe. Here we live side by side and some of us do cooperate. The Kurdish community in America is not demographically significant and there are few if any Jews left in Kurdistan. It is in Europe that there is great potential for people-to-people cooperation between the two Diasporas.

What is done by Israel’s great American ally in Kurdistan since 1991 is very similar to what was done 1965-75. Again, a great Kurdish army is built between the Arabs and the Persians. This time trained and commanded by American officers. The American Jewish community plays a crucial role in facilitating relations between America and third party governments. It is hard to overstate the importance of this relationship as the Kurds have no other friends in this world. And no one else helps the Kurds in Washington.

The outside world usually has a poor understanding of the US-Israel relationship. The Kurds are no exception and when things do not go well in Washington, Israel is accused of “again” betraying the Kurds. While the American Jewish community has significant political influence, it is not omnipotent. There are limits to its powers and once in a while it loses a political battle.

The 200 000 strong Kurdish Jewish community in Israel should serve as a bridge between the two nations. The KRG would be wise to mobilize that community on behalf of the Kurdish cause. The Jewish-Kurdish relationship should not be limited to the Iraqi section of Kurdistan. Jewish communities around the world should be mobilized to support independence for the Kurds of eastern, southern and south-western Kurdistan as well as the democratization of the Turkish republic and turning Turkey and northern Kurdistan into a bilingual federal democratic state with two official languages, Kurdish and Turkish.

The Israeli-Turkish relationship should not be an obstacle as Turkey completely supports the Palestinians in conflict with Israel. These are fairly realistic albeit limited goals for the coming few years. It is essential that the KRG undertakes to defend the interests of Kurds everywhere just as Israel defends the rights and freedom of Jews everywhere. It is also pivotal for the political status of Kurdistan in the United States that the KRG completes its advanced process of democratization. Israel, Kurdistan and Turkey should all be future members of the European Union.

It is time for the two peoples to cooperate on every level. The “secret” relationship that Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani have with Israel will not suffer from people-to-people cooperation between Kurds and Jews in Europe. Ironically, this is the only place where large Kurdish and Jewish communities live side by side. It is time for lost brothers in foreign lands to once again discover a friendship like no other.


[1]These books are: Nakdimon, Shlomo: “A Hopeless Hope. The Rise and Fall of the Israeli-Kurdish Alliance 1963-75.” Published in Hebrew in 1996 by the Mishka Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books and Tzafrir, Eliezer: “Ana Kurdi” 1998, published in Hebrew in Israel

Daniel Bart is the deputy coordinator of the Israel Kurdistan Network, the coordinator of the Campus Task Force network, the President of and a member of the board of the Jewish Student Association of Stockholm. He has also lectured and published on the subject of Kurdish history of religion.

Note: Reports are published based on respect for freedom of opinion's expression, they do not necessarily reflect views of Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Source: Kurdish Media

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