Quantcast i24NEWS - Hope for Kurdish independence lingers in Israel, despite Iraq nixing referendum

Hope for Kurdish independence lingers in Israel, despite Iraq nixing referendum

اكراد يرفعون علم اسرائيل خلال تجمع في اربيل مؤيد للاستفتاء حول استقلال اقليم كردستان، 16 ايلول/سبتمبر 2017
سفين حامد (ا ف ب/AFP)

Despite Iraq's Supreme Court declaring that September's referendum on Kurdish independence was unconstitutional, it remains a topic for discussion in Israel where lawmaker Ksenia Svetlova chaired a special parliamentary session on Wednesday on strengthening ties between the Jewish State and the Kurdish people.

Consensus is extremely rare in the Jewish state. According to a famous motto,“for every two Jews, there are three opinions.” One of those rare exceptions occurs during a discussion on the issue of independence for the Kurdish people.

“You will find consensus in Israel only on opposition to anti-Semitism and support for Kurdish independence,” remarked Member of Knesset (MK) Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), Chairperson of the Knesset’s Lobby for Strengthening Relations between the State of Israel and the Kurdish people during the special parliamentary session titled “Israel and Kurdistan: Together for stability in the Middle East.”

The Israeli consensus on supporting Kurdish independence could not have been more apparent in the forum, as a number of lawmakers from across the political spectrum -- from the left-wing Meretz party to the right-wing Jewish Home party -- expressed their support and empathy for the cause of the Kurdish people.

“With what he have experienced as a people, it’s important for us as Jews not to overlook the suffering of the Kurdish people,” Svetlova told i24NEWS on the sidelines of Wednesday's forum.


Introducing the session, Svetlova spoke of ties between the Kurdish and Jewish people that trace back perhaps for several millennia.

“Some say that the beginning of these relations started thousands of years ago with our grandfather and Patriarch Abraham who lived in Kurdistan,” she said. “There are so many similarities in the destinies of the Jewish and Kurdish nations.”

As the forum took place exactly 70 years after the day when the United Nations voted to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the former British Mandate of Palestine, Svetlova expressed a hope to Kurdish leaders in attendance that, like Israel, the Kurdish people will also experience self-determination in the very near future.

“We are all very hopeful that at some point very soon, we will be able to celebrate with you the birth of a Kurdish state.”

Svetolva also spoke of a political urgency for Israel and the Kurdish people to work towards bringing a Kurdish state to reality as soon as possible.

“It’s also important given the geopolitical situation in the Middle East,” she told i24NEWS.

That importance revolves around common security interests in the region such as neutralizing Iranian hegemony.

“If the Kurds will just be left to their devices, in no time we will have a Shiite corridor from Iran to Iraq and then to Syria and there will be no turning back from that,” she explained.

Delil souleiman (AFP)

In helping the Kurds, Svetlova envisions the creation of a joint US and Israeli lobby through which Israel can at the very least use diplomatic leverage to make the case for Kurdish independence in the international community.

“My goal is to make a connection with members of Congress who are sympathetic and supportive of the Kurdish issue and I know that there are many on both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle,” she said. “Like in Israel, the Kurdish issue unites members of Congress in both parties.”

Svetlova claimed that there are many members of parliament in the European Union who are also sympathetic with the Kurds, and whom could join such a lobby.

President of the Kurdish European Society, Kahraman Evsen, who was present at the forum, expressed a deep appreciation for the existing Israeli consensus on Kurdish independence that was displayed at the meeting.

“It was so emotional for me to see so the support from all different groups and political parties in Israel,” he told i24NEWS.

“It’s not only the words that were said but the sincerity behind those words,” he added. “You can feel if the words are sincere or not and we can sense very well that people of Israel are with us, which gives us a lot of energy and motivation.”


Evsen had already felt that sincerity this past summer when Israel expressed support for a planned referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“When the president of the Kurdistan region announced in June of this year that he would make a referendum, Israel was the only country that openly supported it at the highest political level,” he noted.

“We said at that moment that we needed to come to Israel, so even before the referendum took place we organized a trip to Israel in order to say ‘thank you’ and to contribute to further fostering the relationship between Israel and Kurdistan.”

For Evsen, whose organization largely works to promote the cohesion of the Kurdish Diaspora in Europe, the bonds between Israel and the Kurdish people could not be more natural.

“Most of the Kurdish people have never been in Israel, but we’ve always felt close with the Israelis and Jews because we have so many things in common such as our experiences in the diaspora, persecution, slaughter and our respective desires and yearnings for a free democratic state,” he explained.


A number of other leaders in civil society organizations attended the forum as well, including Yifa Segal, Director of the International Legal Forum, whose organization co-sponsored the event.

“I am personally very passionate about this issue and it goes along with the goals and purposes of our organization as a human rights organization focused on issues in the Middle East,” she told i24NEWS. “I thought it was a wonderful and historic opportunity to join hands and work together.”

MK Svetlova stressed that now is the time to transform aspirations into reality.

“We are not only expressing our hopes and we are not only talking about our defense of the Kurdish people, which is important of course, but we also need to talk about how we conflate our dreams into concrete actions,” she said. “I am very optimistic.”

Despite an overwhelming vote in support of independence, the referendum was struck down by Baghdad earlier this month after it sparked a political and diplomatic crisis with Iraq's neighbors and allies.

Jonathan Benedek is a news editor for i24NEWS' English web desk.



It is definitively to be understood that it is an imprescriptible and inalienable right, in any State in the world, to the people to want to change their constitution. The Kurdish people, voting mainly for their independence, "question the legitimacy of the Iraqi constitution on Kurdish soil" and can not, therefore, be subject to these provisions. As a result, the allegations of constitutional illegalities of the Kurdish independence referendum affirmed by the Iraqi authorities are only, and henceforth, obsolete.

Now, the Kurdish people and their international support must now sit down and validate the independence of Kurdistan with real and serious economic independence. Kurdistan must now build its Silicon Valley, oil no longer king, which would be all the more order to honor the Jewish state already supporting psychologically.

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