No Turkish delight: Israel's obligation to support Kurdish statehood

As Jews, and as Zionist supporters of Israel as a Jewish state, we are morally obligated to support the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination.

July 30, 2017 07:39
3 minute read.
Pro-Kurdish demonstrators attend a rally as they shout slogans in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5, 2016.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators attend a rally as they shout slogans in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5, 2016. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week, echoing his incitement for Muslims worldwide to “defend al-Aksa.”

Just repeating this calumny was not enough for the Turkish dictator, who added fuel to the fire by calling Israel’s removal of metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount “not enough” and saying that IDF soldiers were “dirtying” the site with their boots.

We agree with the assessment of Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon that the Turkish president’s words were “delusional” and “distorted.”

“He would do better to deal with the problems and difficulties in his country,” Nahshon said, adding that “the days of the Ottoman Empire are over.” Calling Erdogan “the last person” who can preach to Israel,” Nahshon pointed to Turkey’s ongoing war against its Kurdish minority.

“It would be interesting what Erdogan would say to the Kurds and residents of northern Cyprus,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.

It follows from the Foreign Ministry’s apparently new approach to Turkish relations that we should all agree with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, that Israel should support the creation of a Kurdish state. We should also finally go public and recognize the Ottoman Armenian genocide.

Both actions are morally right, but the second action has suffered an unconscionable delay. Israeli foreign policy toward Turkey can no longer ignore the ongoing hostility that Erdogan displays publicly in this new era of supposed rapprochement.

Lapid pulled no punches, adding to his disparagement of the Turkish leader by declaring that Israel should also drop the idea of a gas pipeline to Turkey. It is time, he said, to show Erdogan that he cannot bully Israel.

“The time has come to stop ingratiating ourselves to the Turks, who every time come and kick us harder,” Lapid told journalists during a briefing in Tel Aviv. “We need to say, ‘Okay, we understand, now we have to run our own policy: From now on we support the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, we need to recognize the Armenian genocide, we need to do all the things that we didn’t do when we had good relations with Turkey, because we don’t, and we will not have in the future,” he said.

Turkey’s 15 million Kurds represent nearly 18% of the country’s population. Like most of their fellow Muslim citizens, they are Sunnis, but it is their cultural distinction, their ethnic identity, that they are fighting to preserve. Some of the actual fighting is conducted in their name by Kurdish rebels, the PKK, which has resulted in scores of thousands of deaths over recent decades.

Between July 2015 and December 2016, some 1,200 civilians and 800 members of Turkish security forces were killed, and more than 500,000 were displaced. Erdogan has arrested hundreds of members of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on trumped-up charges of collaborating with the PKK, whose physical destruction he pursues, refusing to negotiate.

Israel has been silent in the face of this ongoing violence, taking false comfort in the dismal fact that the international community, led by the EU and the US, has also remained mum. Yes, all agree that Erdogan is ruthless, but excuse his excesses by citing Turkey’s role in fighting ISIS, its NATO membership, and its geostrategic importance.

Don’t forget that Turkey’s economy is in the doldrums, its society still struggling in the upheaval of the failed coup as it attempts to fight against ISIS and cope with the immense pressures of hosting some 3 million refugees.

Nevertheless, this does not justify jailing scores of Kurdish journalists, arresting a dozen Kurdish parliamentarians, using collective punishment against whole Kurdish towns and villages, and relentlessly persecuting Syrian Kurds whom he accuses of loyalty to the PKK.

The Kurdish narrative is strikingly similar to our own. Both peoples are ethnically unique, have rich cultures, and support democracy and human rights – and until 1948 both lacked a state of their own. As Jews, and as Zionist supporters of Israel as a Jewish state, we are morally obligated to support the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination.

Like the Jews, the Kurds have been subject to the rule of others for thousands of years. The Kurdistan Regional Government, a semi-autonomous government in northern Iraq, has announced that it will hold a referendum for independence on September 25. It is incumbent on us to support their quest for statehood.

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