America must protect the Kurds from the Turkish tyrant

President Trump’s decision to fire missiles at Syria following a chemical weapons attack early in his term showed a moral conviction that president Obama – for all his talk – lacked.

KURDS LIVING in Greece shout slogans while burning a poster depicting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against Turkey’s military action in northeastern Syria, in Athens, Friday (photo credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / REUTERS)
KURDS LIVING in Greece shout slogans while burning a poster depicting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against Turkey’s military action in northeastern Syria, in Athens, Friday
(photo credit: ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / REUTERS)
There are three unpardonable sins in modern society. I’m not talking about sins from the Bible, although these are indeed violations of universal Jewish values. I am referring specifically to a phenomenon that goes beyond the fundamental commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The first and most abominable sin is to commit genocide, defined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Mass murder has become all too familiar in the last century:
• In 1915, the Turks slaughtered perhaps 1.5 million people.
• Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
• From 1975-1979, Pol Pot killed as many as three million Cambodians.
• More than 800,000 Tutsi were massacred in Rwanda in 1994.
• The ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs in 1995.
The second sin is to be a bystander as these slaughters take place. Genocide would not be possible if world leaders acted to prevent mass murder and acted against those who ignore their warnings. Ethnic cleansing does not occur in secret. Despite the lengths to which they went to conceal their crimes, the world knew the Nazis were exterminating the Jews. The pope, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill all were aware of the Holocaust and failed to stop it before nearly all European Jewry was destroyed.
The third sin is to in any way facilitate or give even the impression of approval of genocide. Knowingly allowing someone who has threatened genocide to carry out their plan is unforgivable. Failing to speak out when leaders threaten to exterminate a people or act against them is equally indefensible. Worst of all is to allow them to acquire the means to fulfill their threats. When the Iranians repeatedly vowed to wipe Israel off the map, it was unforgivable for then-president Barack Obama to reward them with a $150 billion windfall and sign a nuclear agreement that did not prevent them from engaging in terrorism, developing ballistic missiles or pursuing their goal of building a nuclear weapon. It was his support for this deal and his failure to speak out against Iran’s plans to annihilate the Jewish people over which Sen. Cory Booker – once my closest friend – and I suffered a serious rupture in our relationship.
President Donald Trump reversed Obama’s catastrophic Iran policy and has been a staunch defender of Israel. He has also defended Arab life by firing cruise missiles at the arch-butcher Bashar Assad after the President of Syria gassed innocent Muslims in Aleppo and other parts of the country, something President Obama refused to do, which is why the president must commit to protecting our Kurdish allies from the Muslim extremist tyrant of Turkey.
The Syrian government, with the help of Russia and Iran, has been engaged in what meets the definition of genocide against the people of Syria since 2011. The massacres have included the use of chemical weapons by Assad on his own people, sparing no one, including women and children. The entire Western world is guilty of the second sin of standing by and allowing this to go on for the last eight years.
President Obama gave his own green light to these mass atrocities when he said that the use of chemical weapons was a red line, and then did nothing when the Syrian government crossed it and continued to gas its own people. The rest of the world never bothered establishing any red lines, giving the murderers the freedom to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians and create a massive refugee problem.
President Trump’s decision to fire missiles at Syria following a chemical weapons attack early in his term showed a moral conviction that president Obama – for all his talk – lacked. But we must now do more as the use of chemical weapons has continued.
Obama’s failure to enforce his red line emboldened Assad to continue his genocidal campaign. Now it’s Erdogan of Turkey who wants to take it further, using the withdrawal from Syria of US troops – who, though only fifty in number, served as a tripwire against Turkish aggression – to decimate our Kurdish allies who are unprotected from the Turkish Army. We cannot betray our ally and acquiesce to the wishes of the Turkish autocrat. President Trump was right to threaten Erdogan with the most severe sanctions if his aggression continues, but Erdogan took the president’s withdrawal of US troops as a signal, in the first place, that his aggression would go unchallenged.
The removal of these troops has been criticized by the president’s staunchest Republican allies as well as military leaders and Middle East experts. The president may wish to extricate America from endless Middle East wars. But as many of these critics noted, this action has several negative consequences. Besides potentially rejuvenating ISIS, the most serious is to make our allies not only in the Middle East but around the world question whether the United States will stand by them.
One of those allies is Israel. This president has been the most pro-Israel US president in history. But Israel is rightly alarmed by unchecked Turkish aggression.
ERDOGAN IS an antisemite. His hatred of the Jewish people and Israel is not transactional but ideological. He has accused Israelis of being Nazis and has repeatedly and falsely accused Israel of genocide. He has also destroyed Turkey’s democracy. He must be stopped from destroying the Kurds.
Turkey’s aggression also harms Israel by hurting one of its allies – the Kurds – and giving new confidence to the Iranians that the United States will not take military action to prevent their hegemonic activities and consolidation of forces inside Syria. It was Obama’s withdrawal of US troops from Iraq that first emboldened the Iranians. That mistake should not be repeated by a president who has proven himself to be Israel’s staunchest ally.
While the American withdrawal of troops has been the focus of critics, let us not ignore the continued complicity of the Europeans who have stood on the sidelines throughout the mass slaughter in Syria. They are doing nothing now to prevent Turkey from conducting its own campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Perhaps the only silver lining is the betrayal of the Kurds is a validation of Zionism. I agree with Yossi Alpher, who wrote in the Forward, “For anyone who has entertained doubts about the need for a state for the Jewish people, the Kurds represent a tragic reminder. They are consistently being abandoned to an ugly fate because they don’t have a country.”
Mr. President, you have shown your commitment to protecting innocent Arab life with your attack on Assad when he gassed his people. Now the United States must show the same commitment in making it clear to Erdogan that slaughtering the Kurds is a red line that he dare not cross lest he incur American wrath. Set up a no-fly zone and tell Erdogan in no uncertain terms that his atrocities against the Kurds will be punished. Europe is feckless, Mr. President. Only the United States can stand for morality and serve as the defender of all people against the threat of genocide.
You did it with Assad. Now do it with Erdogan and Turkey.


The writer, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ is the author of Judaism for Everyone and Renewal: The Seven Vital Values of the Jewish Faith. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.


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