New Jewish group supports independence for Kurdistan
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New Jewish group supports independence for Kurdistan

Kurdish people rallying for independence in Erbil, Iraq, Sept. 22, 2017. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Several prominent Jews in Europe and North America joined an organization fostering Jewish-Kurdish friendship and supporting independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Jewish-American lawyer Alan Dershowitz joined the honorary board of the Brussels-based Jewish Coalition for Kurdistan last month, along with Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister of Canada, and Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, two well-known hunters of Nazis from Germany, the group’s founder and president, Joel Rubinfeld, told JTA Wednesday.

Also on the honorary board of the coalition are Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Charles Tannock, a British lawmaker at the European Parliament and foreign affairs and human rights spokesman for the UK Conservative delegation.

The unveiling Wednesday of Rubinfeld’s group is among several high-profile actions in support of Kurdish national aspirations by Jews following the September independence referendum in Kurdistan, the autonomous region in northern Iraq.

On Friday, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French-Jewish philosopher and longtime supporter of Kurdish independence, will attend a screening at the United Nations headquarters in New York of his documentary film on the subject titled “Peshmerga,” which is the Kurdish-language name of the Kurdish combatants. Levy is not a member of the Jewish Coalition for Kurdistan.

Rubinfeld is a former president of the federation of French-speaking Jewish communities of Belgium and founder of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism. He unveiled the pro-Kurdish group while in Israel, where he is slated to attend a first-of-its kind conference on Kurdish independence at Israel’s Knesset.

Scheduled for Nov. 29, the 70th anniversary of the successful vote on the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, the event is titled “Kurdistan and Israel: Together Toward Peace and Stability in the Middle East.” The conference is being organized by Zionist Union lawmaker Ksenia Svetlona. In addition to Israeli lawmakers, members of the Kurdish Jewish community and activists like Rubinfeld, Kurdish civil society leaders also will attend.

“It’s natural that such an event should take place in Israel, which is today the best ally of Kurdistan today, and perhaps its only one, unfortunately,” said Rubinfeld, who began lobbying for the Kurdish national cause two years ago. “There is widespread understanding of the rightfulness of the Kurdish cause and its strategic importance” in Israel, he added.

Israel was among the first countries in the world to support the establishment of a Kurdish state following a statement on the issue by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel in the past had remained silent on Kurdish national ambitions, which Turkey, a major trade partner of Israel and previously also a key ally, has long opposed.

While a majority of voters in Kurdistan supported independence in the September referendum, the Iraqi government said it does not recognize the referendum’s results and implemented various sanctions, including a ban on all outgoing and incoming flights from the Kurdish autonomy. Amid pressure from Baghdad, Kurdish militia soldiers last month ceded dozens of forward positions to Iraqi army troops, in what Rubinfeld decried as “a great accomplishment for Iran.”

Iran is widely seen as dictating various policies and actions of the government of Iraq. “The Peshmerga were abandoned by the United States under Donald Trump,” charged Rubinfeld.

Following clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk in October, President Trump said he is “not taking sides.” The State Department said it “strongly opposes” the referendum on independence, preferring a dialogue facilitated by the United States and United Nations.

“There is a kinship between the two peoples, the Jewish one and the Kurdish one, that transcends merely political calculus,” Rubinfeld said. “We are two nations of several millions people who by and large both stand for Western values such as tolerance, progress, equal rights for women and who, in the Middle East and beyond, stand up to tyranny and fanaticism.”

Rubinfeld added that the Israeli flag is to many Kurds a second national symbol “because they identify with Israel and the Jews.”

Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad voted last month to criminalize flying the Israeli flag in the country, after they appeared at several Kurdish rallies in the lead up and aftermath of the referendum.