The new Directorate for Jewish affairs, established by the Kurdish Parliament in May, has created a ripple of interest in the international media. The new director, Shirzad Omar Mahmoud Mamsani, has been giving press interviews. Judit Neurink, a Dutch journalist with a special interest in Kurdish Jews, has written this article in Rudaw. But Point of No Return has received a warning from a Kurdish source that Mamsani is an Iranian agent. What is one to make of all this? See my comment below Neurink's article:
Shirzad Mamsani, head of the directorate of Jewish affairs, poses with the Israeli and Kurdish flags.
"A region that has hardly any Jews left appoints a director for
Jewish affairs. That is a striking development, taking place in the
Kurdistan Region, which lost most of its Jewish population in the
fifties of the last century.
After the forming of the state Israel, Iraq was the scene of
anti-zionism and anti-Jewish attacks, which led to many Jews fleeing the
country illegally. And after the Iraqi government created a law that
made it possible for them to leave in a legal way, many more left, even
though they had to submit their Iraqi nationality and leave behind all
Those who stayed converted to Islam, and a few went
underground. With the result that today the Kurdistan Region counts no
more than 300 families that still treasure their Jewish roots.
As I did research on the Jewish heritage of Kurdistan, I know
that next to these Benjews, - meaning: those with Jewish roots - many
people in Kurdistan still have a special feeling for their Jewish
But the radical Islam preached in Kurdistan declared Jews to be
the enemy, disregarding that - like the Christians - they are the
so-called ‘people of the book’. And for years hardly anyone in Kurdistan
dared to mention their own Jewish bloodline.
It seems strange, but thanks to the radical Islamic terror
group ISIS the mood has changed. Because of its atrocities, many Kurds
turned their backs on the radical Islam. While at the same time, the
Kurdish authorities decided to make sure religious minorities would feel
safe and welcome in the region.
As the result of a law adapted by the Kurdistan parliament in
May, all these minorities were offered a directorate general in the
Ministry of Religion. And surprisingly, the Jews too – even though they
must by far be the smallest religious minority in the region.
And yet, allowing this group its own representative could have
the biggest impact of all. Many thousands of Jewish Kurds live now in
Israel, and have not been able to be in contact with their relatives in
Kurdistan for years. The road to family reunions has now opened, and an
end to secrecy could well be in sight.
As I understand from Mariwan Naqshbandi, the person responsible
for these new directorates, already some 400 families who returned from
Israel are living in Kurdistan. The fact that this has been happening
without any signs of discontent from the side of the Kurdish communities
they came back to, tells us that the winds have truly changed.
That will open the way for others to return. It is known that
the Kurdish community is one of the most tight ones, even in Israel
today, and it could well be that people will want to come back to the
land of their parents and grandparents. Perhaps first to visit, but
probably some will want to resettle here.
In that way, a Jewish community will be reborn in Kurdistan,
and eventually synagogues will be opened again, and rabbis will come to
bring the religion back to life.
To make that happen, we will also have to solve some issues and
talk about the properties many had to leave behind. That will be the
hardest chapter of reuniting Jews and Kurds, probably involving court
cases and bad feelings.
Yet at the same time it could save the former Jewish quarters
of Erbil from disappearing. Most of the houses there still are the
property of the original owners, and rents have been put into a frozen
bank account for years. If the new directorate can work to unfreeze that
account, the money could be used to reconstruct the badly derelict
neighbourhood and bring it back to life.
But these are sensitive issues, as the confiscated property was
given to Kurds. Robbing people of houses they consider to be theirs
could inflame negative feelings that should be avoided to be able to
rebuild a thriving Jewish community.
The time seems ripe to stimulate this, for better relations
between the Kurds and the Jewish state. To upgrade that to formal
diplomatic relations won’t be possible until Baghdad does the same, or
the Kurds extend their autonomous status in Iraq to an even more
independent one. Israel will support the latter, its leaders have
Read article in full
My comment: While one does not doubt the Kurdish parliament's sincerity in setting up Directorates to safeguard the rights of minorities there are several aspects of this story that do not ring true. Who are these 400 families who left Israel to resettle in Kurdistan 'because they did not want their daughters to serve in the IDF'? There have certainly been no reports of this reverse exodus in the Israeli press, the most free in the region. To believe that, once its property claims are settled, the Jewish community will revive in Kurdistan seems wishful thinking when all 18, 000 Jews were airlifted to Kurdistan in 1949 -50.
The new head of the Jewish directorate, Shirzad Omar Mahmoud Mamsani, is anxious to burnish his anti-ISIS credentials: he lost an arm to radical Islamists. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, as the Kurdistan Newsway blog alleges, that he is also an Iranian spy.
While Mamsani may be a Kurd of Jewish descent - a Benju - Kurdistan Newsway says he is not a Jew.
Kidnapped editor Mawlud Afand: presumed murdered
In her blog, Neurink says Mamsani
published a book about relations between the Kurds and Israel. He 'has long been active to improve the ties
between Kurds and Israelis, for instance by publishing the ‘Israel
Kurd’-magazine'. " His appointment resulted from his own request to the Kurdistan government
for an official bureau, to be able to better work for the cause."
Point of No Return charted the ill-fated story of the Israel-Kurd magazine,whose publisher was Daoud al-Baghestani, not Mamsani. Baghestani was forced into exile in 2012 when Iranian agents kidnapped the magazine's editor, Mawlud Afand. Afand vanished into Iran, presumed murdered. Kurdistan Newsway alleges that a spy ring including Mamsani 'sold' Afand to the Iranians. At the time Baghestani accused Sherzad Omar Mamsani of slipping an anaesthetic drug into Afand's food and driving him across the Iranian border into Kermanshah.
It seems plausible that Iran would have an interest in planting its agents at the heart of Kurdistan's well-documented attempts to strengthen its ties with Israel. As is so often the way in the Middle East, all is not always what it seems.