Support the vulnerable people of the Middle East

The universal principles that are a prerequisite for human rights – for fundamental equality in society – do not yet exist in the Middle East.

March 9, 2016 20:48
3 minute read.
Syrian refugees are reflected in a puddle as they wait for their turn to enter Macedonia

Syrian refugees are reflected in a puddle as they wait for their turn to enter Macedonia at Greece's border. (photo credit: REUTERS)

No one can have failed to notice the recent diplomatic crisis that emerged between Israel and Sweden after Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström described Israel’s self-defense against terrorist attacks as “extrajudicial executions.” The statement stems from the Swedish lack of understanding of the needs of vulnerable peoples to protect themselves and reveals the gap between threatened peoples in the Middle East and European communities at a time we should instead be emphasizing the need for Western support for both Israel and those threatened peoples.

The so-called “Arab” or “Muslim” world is a remarkably complex region, which has in the past century unfortunately lost much of its diversity following the Assyrian genocide, the Armenian genocide, the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran and the broader and constant decline of Christian and other minority populations. Especially since 2003, Assyrians, Mandaeans and Yazidis in particular have faced the threat of total annihilation.

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The Western world lacks sufficient understanding of this tragedy; we in our time have not had the experience of a comparable threat. It would be a mistake to assume that the same worldview which informs Western policies towards their own vulnerable populations, founded on generosity and equality, can provide recourse to vulnerable peoples elsewhere.

If this stance is applied to the Middle East without regard to the current reality there, it risks leading to the betrayal of peoples facing an existential threat. The universal principles that are a prerequisite for human rights – for fundamental equality in society – do not yet exist in the Middle East.

The lack of understanding in the Western world of the existential threats and challenges that the region’s indigenous and minority peoples face is fertile ground for the emergence of disproportionate criticism of Israel. The unwillingness to understand Israel’s plight is reflected in an equally clear indifference to the rights of indigenous peoples who have not yet attained self-governance. The motives are of the same nature in both cases. Given the prevalence of oppressive majoritarian politics in the region, Western support of powerful actors in the Middle East has constantly come at the expense of the region’s smaller peoples.

Conversely, oppressed and marginalized nations, namely the Assyrians, see Israel as a triumph of survival against all odds for the Jewish people, and in addition as an important democratic role model marked by true pluralism and diversity.

Due to the fact that Israel has from its inception been surrounded by hostile forces, it has unfortunately not had the possibility to develop ties with other indigenous and threatened people in the region – something that is very much in Israel’s interest.

Jewish representatives and organizations in many Western countries – including Sweden – have been at the forefront of support for Assyrians and other minorities in the Middle East. We have seen growing cooperation between the Jewish community and Assyrian organizations in Sweden reflected in the visit of the Israeli ambassador to the Assyrian New Year celebration Akitu, Israeli aid organizations working among our refugees in northern Iraq and many key individual initiatives for refugees by prominent Jewish representatives around the world.

The strongest appeal published in Sweden demanding action to combat the Islamic State genocide and support Assyrians was signed by the Central Jewish Council chairman Lena Posner as the representative of Sweden’s Jewish communities.

The world’s leading Jewish organization, the World Jewish Congress, has expressed that support for the Middle Eastern minorities is one of the organization’s top priorities in our time.

There is no more appropriate time than now for Israeli political representatives to clearly speak out against the same terrible forces that led to the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries, which are again at work today targeting Assyrians, and to provide support to the Assyrian people who are facing an existential threat.

We now hope that ever-increasing interest in the Israeli media for the Assyrian people and the fate of other minorities in the region should also result in more clearly pronounced support from senior Israeli officials and Knesset for genocide victims.

The Jewish and Assyrian communities have much to gain from mutual cooperation in light of their shared history, the affinity of their struggle and national projects, and their common experience of majoritarian oppression.

Hopefully, the cooperation of the Diaspora can form the basis of a collaboration that finds its way back to the Middle East, where until recent memory, Jews and Assyrians lived side by side for 3,000 years.

The writer is a prominent young Swedish Assyrian writer, opinion maker and activist.

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