If there is no place for Jews in the Middle East, there is not likely to be a place for Kurds, either. The message is widely understood in Kurdistan, finds Clifford May, writing in the Dedham Transcript. Not mentioned in his piece is that Israel aided Barazani’s fighters against Saddam, and Kurdish smugglers helped Iraqi Jews escape:
Six months after the collapse of Saddam’s regime, the Kurds erected a memorial on the edge of Halabja. It includes haunting photos; those of mothers clutching babies to their breasts as they died in the streets are perhaps the most heart-wrenching. A sign, in fractured English, gets its point across nonetheless: “Live and victory for all nations. Death for all kinds of racism.”
The result of this experience: Kurds see Americans as allies and also have empathy for Israelis and Jews. It makes sense when you think about it: Like Kurds, Jews are an ancient Middle Eastern people. Like Kurds, Jews have been targeted for genocide. Like Kurds, Israelis face an uncertain future among neighbors who range from merely hostile to openly exterminationist.
Students meeting with our delegation express admiration for Israelis’ courage – somewhat to the chagrin of their American professor. A Kurdish driver tells me there are two countries he’d like to visit: America and Israel. Why Israel? Because Israelis, like Kurds, have been persecuted yet have managed to survive, achieve and prosper. “We have no problems with Israel,” explains Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of Kurdistan’s Department of Foreign Relations. “They have not harmed us. We can’t be hating them because Arabs hate them.” He notes that Israel is one of the few democracies in the region and that Kurds, too, are attempting to build durable democratic institutions. Kurdistan, Bakir adds, is sometimes called “the second Israel.”
Jews settled in this area as early as the eighth century B.C. Of course, Jews once lived throughout the broader Middle East, from Morocco to Afghanistan. However, after World War II and the founding of the state of Israel, Arab governments turned on their Jewish minorities. As recently as the 1940s, Jews constituted as much as a third of Baghdad’s population. By the early 1950s, almost all had been expelled. The Iraqi government forced Kurdish Jews into exile as well.
Kurds today appear to grasp this equation: If there is no place for Jews in the Middle East, there is not likely to be a place for Kurds either. The ongoing religious and ethnic cleansing of the “Muslim world” may be the biggest story journalists are not telling, political leaders are not highlighting and human right activists are not protesting.