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

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.

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.

Ksenia Svetlova is a member of the Israeli Knesset for the Zionist Union party,

and serves as the head of the Knesset pro-Kurdish lobby.

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