In the light of the crumbling relationship between Israel and Turkey, Eli Avidar, writing in the Jerusalem Post, pleads for Israel to re-evaluate its relations with the Kurdish people for whom Israel's 130,000 Jews of Kurdish descent have affection and regard. In recent decades, the Kurds undoubtedly did much to assist Jews escaping from Iraq. Nevertheless, Avidar tends to idealise historical Kurdish-Jewish ties and whitewash antisemitism against Kurdish Jews, who suffered from 19th century blood libels and religious discrimination. (With thanks: Lily)
For a long time I have warned that we must cease black-and-white conduct, which causes damage to us and prevents us from advancing vital interests in the international arena and in our relationship with the Palestinians and the Arab world in general. The story of our relationship with the Kurdish people and our conduct with Turkey concerning them is no different.
Some 130,000 members of the Kurdish community live here, and their stories indicate that they lived in peace and with regard among their Muslim neighbors. The very fact that they preserved their Jewishness in areas remote from other Jewish centers proves that the Jews of Kurdistan achieved respect and appreciation. You can see that concentrations of Jews living in similar isolation disappeared over the years.
Most of the Israeli public does not even know that the Jewish people from Kurdistan happened to arrive there in the wake of the Assyrian royal exile. The first stage of the exile was undertaken by Shalmaneser V in 733 BCE, and it was completed by his successor, Sargon II in 722 BCE.
The two kings deported Jews living in the northern kingdom of Israel and east of the Jordan River.
The aliya of Kurdish Jews to Israel began before the establishment of the state, with the majority of the community immigrating after the establishment of Israel, during 1950-1954, under the orders of the rabbis and community leaders.
Their emigration was not due to riots or pogroms of the Muslim population among which the Jews lived, but because of deep love for Israel, which prompted them to follow their community leaders and leave their region.
We have a moral and a historic debt to the Kurdish people in all the geographic regions in which they live, especially the Kurdish community in Iraq. Following the riots, pogroms and harsh conditions that Iraqi Jews were exposed to, since the founding of the State of Israel and even before, it was the Kurdish people who helped Jewish families escape from Iraq to Turkey, and from there to reach the Land of Israel. I am personally familiar with one incident, the case of the late Fouad Gabai, who was hanged in the central square of Baghdad on January 27, 1969 along with eight others also killed by the government.
His widow and four children were arrested and placed in a detention camp. They were later smuggled to Israel by the Barzani family, one of two main Kurdish families in Iraq.
For many years the Kurds have suffered under the strong arm of the Iraqi regime, their only sin being their desire for independence, and the Sunni world was silent. The Kurdish people have always been among the adopted sons of Sunni Islam and the Middle East in general.
The change of government in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein led to a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. In 2007, in a live broadcast on Qatar’s satellite channel, the world’s most extreme Sunni preacher, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who kept silent when members of the Kurdish community in Iraq were slaughtered during the regime of Saddam Hussein, called upon the Kurdish leadership not to forget that they are Sunni, and to help their fellow Sunnis against the Shi’ites. The Kurdish leadership in Iraq did not buy this and did not assist. They suffered too many years for a call like this to bring them to action.
Over the years, members of the Kurdish community in Israel have shared the pain of the Kurdish people suffering in Iraq and Turkey. I have learned from their stories; community leaders returning deeply moved after travelling to Turkey, making sure to reach Kurdish areas to connect with their heritage and to talk to the people.
Over the years of tight relations with Turkey, the anger of the Kurdish resistance has been directed against Israel more than once. The best example of this took place on February 17, 1999, when, following the announcement by the Turkish court of the verdict in the trial of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a furious mob of Kurds took over our consulate in Berlin for a few hours.
The Jewish people, which knows how to be grateful to every citizen of Poland, Russia or Germany who saved Jews, also needs to know how to be grateful to an entire people with whom we lived in peace, appreciation and understanding for thousands of years.
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