Iraq's refusal to normalize relation with Israel is the wrong move - editorial

Iraq passed a law against normalizing relations with Israel last week which makes it impossible for it to join the Abraham Accords.

Clerics hold signs and the Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing ties with Israel, in front of the Palestinian embassy in Baghdad, Iraq September 15, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALID AL-MOUSILY)
Clerics hold signs and the Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing ties with Israel, in front of the Palestinian embassy in Baghdad, Iraq September 15, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KHALID AL-MOUSILY)

Despite tensions and difficulties, much of the Middle East is moving toward peace with Israel, either through open relations or quiet ties. It was therefore sad to see the Iraqi parliament bucking the trend last week and passing a law that criminalizes any attempt to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

The law, officially titled “Criminalizing Normalization and Establishment of Relations with the Zionist Entity,” passed on Thursday with the support of 275 legislators out of the 329-seat parliament. Violation of the new law is punishable with life imprisonment or even a death sentence. 

It has been noted that the Iraqi parliament which approved the legislation has been unable to convene on any other issue, failing even to elect a new president and form a new government in a period of political paralysis.

In other words, the only topic on which the Iraqi parliament could agree was creating legislation against Israel and against any chance of peace.

The timing of the anti-Israel legislation was particularly unfortunate coming close to the anniversary of the Farhud, the Nazi-inspired, mufti-supported pogrom that erupted on June 1, 1941. More than 180 Jews lost their lives in the two days of anti-Jewish attacks that coincided with the Shavuot holiday.

 ISRAEL, UAE AND BAHRAIN sign the Abraham Accords at the White House in 2020. Had the Heavens gifted Israel with reprieve from diplomatic ‘tsunamis,’ but not bestowed upon it the blessings of the Abraham Accords – dayenu. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS) ISRAEL, UAE AND BAHRAIN sign the Abraham Accords at the White House in 2020. Had the Heavens gifted Israel with reprieve from diplomatic ‘tsunamis,’ but not bestowed upon it the blessings of the Abraham Accords – dayenu. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)

Although Israel enjoys cordial relations with the independent Kurdish autonomous region, Iraq has never recognized the State of Israel, and Iraqi citizens and companies are not permitted to visit it. The new legislation goes a step further, specifically criminalizing any attempts to normalize relations with the Jewish state, and reportedly will be applied also to the autonomous Kurdistan.

Last September, some 300 courageous Iraqi leaders, including prominent Sunni and Shi’ite figures, met at a conference organized by the Center for Peace Communications, a New York-based think tank. It took place in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and called for the normalization of ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords

Although many of these leaders faced retribution, their act was a sign that there are rational members of the Iraqi population and leadership who want to move forward and create a better world.

The anti-normalization law was proposed by populist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose party, which has a majority in the Iraqi assembly, opposes ties with both Israel and the United States. It appears to be a message directed mainly toward Iran and Sadr’s Shi’ite home base.

Israel's response

Israel’s Foreign Ministry decried the new legislation, with ministry spokesman Lior Haiat tweeting on Friday: “Israel condemns the decision by the Iraqi parliament to pass legislation against normalization with Israel and that imposes the death penalty on one who has contact with Israel.

“This is a law that puts Iraq and the Iraqi people on the wrong side of history and disconnected from reality,” Haiat said.

“Leaders who choose a path of hate and incitement hurt their own people first of all. We call on the Iraqi people not to support this extremist position.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was “disturbed” by the move, adding that it jeopardized “freedom of expression” and promoted “an environment of antisemitism.”

“This legislation stands in stark contrast to progress Iraq’s neighbors have made by building bridges and normalizing relations with Israel, creating new opportunities for people throughout the region,” Price said. “The United States will continue to be a strong and unwavering partner in supporting Israel, including as it expands ties with its neighbors in the pursuit of greater peace and prosperity for all.”

Israel is making an effort to broaden the Abraham Accords of 2020 in which diplomatic relations were established with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. A coalition against jihadist terrorism and the threats of a nearly nuclear Iran is essential. The region should not be held hostage by Palestinian whims and fancies and Iranian demands when it can only benefit from the peace and economic progress that normalization of ties with Israel would bring.

Normalization between the Arab and Jewish states should be backed by all those who truly support peace. This is the way forward.