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Jewish Organizations Speak out Against Iraqi Treatment of Kurds

April 8, 1991
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American Jewish organizations joined the chorus of public appeals late last week that may have contributed to the Bush administration’s belated decision to provide humanitarian aid to the Kurds in Iraq.

Israeli officials have also spoken out strongly in recent days against Baghdad’s treatment of its Kurdish citizens, who have been fleeing northern Iraq en masse since the collapse of their revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

According to news reports from the region, as many as 2 million Kurds and others fled their homes in panic after Hussein’s forces crushed the revolt that followed the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait in late February.

President Bush on Friday ordered U.S. air force transports to begin dropping food, blankets and clothing to the Kurdish refugees. The first air drops Sunday included tents and medical supplies.

Secretary of State James Baker flew to Turkey on Sunday and was to visit its border with Iraq, which many refugees are trying to cross in search of safe haven from Iraqi troops.

Prior to these actions, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council issued a statement last Thursday urging the Bush administration to “speak out forcefully against the atrocities Iraqi forces are committing against the Kurdish population” and to provide the victims swiftly with humanitarian assistance.

“We are reminded of the tragic consequences of a world that remained silent,” said the statement, which was issued by NJCRAC’s chairman, Arden Shenker.

The umbrella group is the policy coordinating body for 11 national Jewish agencies and more than 100 local community relations councils around the country.


In Washington, B’nai B’rith International issued a statement last Thursday expressing “profound disappointment with the indifference being displayed by the family of nations toward the Kurdish people now fleeing murderous attacks being perpetrated by the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“It is intolerable that the allies who so recently went to war to curb the brutal aggression of Saddam Hussein should now sit back with arms folded and watch Iraqi troops massacre innocent men, women and children,” said the statement, which was issued by the group’s international president, Kent Schiner.

He urged “immediate intervention and humanitarian help.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council, a Washington-based independent organization of Jews who support the Democratic Party, said it “strongly encourages the United States to take a number of steps to stop Hussein’s brutal repression of the Kurds.”

Its statement demanded that the Bush administration “admit that it had encouraged the Iraqi people” to overthrow Hussein at a time when there were over 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq but has since “abandoned the Kurdish people who responded to the president’s call.”

Both NJCRAC and the Democratic group noted that Jews will observe Yom Hashoah this week, the Day of Remembrance for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Shenker observed in that connection that “our experience as a people has sensitized us forever to the policies and practices that threaten genocide against other national, ethnic and religious groups, and the necessity to speak out clearly and forcefully whenever such threats arise.”


On Sunday, at New York’s annual commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the plight of the Kurdish refugees was mentioned by Benjamin Meed, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization.

“As we read of the plight of the Iraqi refugees fleeing from the obscene brutality and slaughter of Saddam Hussein’s army, our memories return,” said Meed. “Of all people, we Jews cannot be silent to the agony of the Kurds and the Shi’ites. Of all people, we survivors must call on our country and on the United Nations to stop this killer, Saddam Hussein.”

In Jerusalem, President Chaim Herzog said Sunday that Jews must “raise our voices in regard to the plight of the Kurdish people, since no one knows better than us the meaning of the persecution of a people.”

Likewise, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir spoke out publicly last Thursday against Iraq’s treatment of the Kurdish population.

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