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September 27, 2017 4:44 pm

Trump Betrays Kurdistan

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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US President Donald Trump delivers his first address before the UN General Assembly last week. Photo: UN. – It is difficult to look at the scandalous international response to the Kurdish independence referendum and not think, at the same time, of the betrayals endured by the Zionist movement in the decades after World War I.

In 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. What people forget is that in 1939, Britain then issued a White Paper limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine — on the eve of the Holocaust — to a paltry 75,000 souls over five years. People forget, too, that as late as 1947, British troops at Haifa dock were locking Holocaust survivors who had escaped to Palestine in barbed wire cages, and then shipping them back to displaced persons camps in Germany.

A similar, sorry state prevails today with the Kurds — a predominantly Muslim nation of 25-35 million people currently divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, whose denizens in Iraq this week voted by a majority of 93 percent for independence.

Kurdistan should have come into existence a century ago, when Britain and France agreed that the Kurds — newly liberated from the Ottoman Empire –could hold a referendum on independence in about one quarter of the territory on which they live. But even that arrangement was too much for the Turks, and the Western imperial powers caved in, paving the way for a hundred years of political and ethnic repression, military campaigns targeting Kurdish civilians, and even genocide.

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Just as the Zionists were given false hope, so were the Kurds. Just as the Zionists had to fight for self-determination at a time when the world frowned on the idea of a Jewish state, so now are the Kurds.

At least, in 1948, when the entire Arab League tried to stomp on Israel at birth, the independence of the Jewish state was recognized by the great powers — the US and the Soviet Union. To date, only Israel has publicly backed the independence referendum in Kurdistan. The rest of the world — including, with woeful hypocrisy, the Brits, fresh from their own “Brexit” referendum on leaving the EU — has lined up behind the demand of Turkey, Iran and the Iranian-proxy regime in Baghdad that Kurdistan can never claim its right to be recognized on the map of the world.

Most shameful of all, though, has been the response of Washington –because, quite frankly, we are entitled to expect much better.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the progressive activists who flock to Palestinians act as if the Kurds don’t even exist, or that most Americans don’t know anything about the Kurds in the first place — or even that Europe is continuing its noble foreign policy tradition of betraying the cause of freedom in the post-colonial world.

But it should be surprising, at the very least, that the Trump administration — whose strategy of eliminating Islamic State involved the loss of hundreds of brave Kurdish fighters — should address the independence referendum in a tone marked by profound ignorance and shocking ingratitude.

Take this nonsensical statement issued by State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, on the day of the referendum: “The United States is deeply disappointed that the Kurdistan Regional Government decided to conduct today a unilateral referendum on independence,” she said. “The United States’ historic relationship with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will not change in light of today’s non-binding referendum, but we believe this step will increase instability and hardships for the Kurdistan region and its people.”

Nauert seems to be saying that while we have a “historic relationship” with the Kurds, we shouldn’t let that get in the way of making the right decision –which, in this case, means kowtowing to the Turkish-Iranian-Iraqi alliance. It means telling the Kurds that while some nations, including our very own, have the right to separate from other nations, they don’t.

It means — unbelievably — telling the Kurds that they are better off remaining in the same unified Iraq that, in the late 1980s, engaged in a campaign of genocide known as the “Anfal,” in which thousands of Kurds were exterminated by Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons. And it means pretending, à la Heather Nauert, that the failed state of Iraq is really on the way to becoming, in her words, “united, federal, democratic and prosperous.”

The Kurds should not have to put up with these kinds of insults, which demonstrate no sensitivity to their history and no love for the enormous sacrifices that they have made on our behalf. I was proud that Israel took the lonely stance that it did. By the same token, I was disappointed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then issued an instruction to stop talking about the referendum — because it was the right thing to do. And because the Turkish dictator Erdogan and the mullahs in Iran are correct that an independent Kurdistan will be a strategic Muslim ally of the Jewish state.

Who leaned on Netanyahu to stop the outpouring of support in Israel for the Kurds — at the very same time as Kurdish independence advocates waved Israeli flags alongside Kurdish ones? It is sensible to look in the direction of Washington, and also Ankara — which has an army of lobbyists and public relations consultants in America (including not a few Jews who claim to be friends of Israel) eager to do its bidding. But no spin can mask the stench of betrayal over Kurdistan emanating from the White House and the State Department.

Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.

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  • henrytobias


  • Joy Daniels Brower

    I’ve known about the Kurds for more than 50 years, but strangely enough, that first introduction was from a socialist student from Norway! In more recent times, of course, the late Christopher Hitchens was a huge supporter of their cause for independence (from the 3 countries in which they found themselves after WW One!), which is why he surprised everyone by supporting George W. Bush in his invasion of Iraq, which, for a moment in time, seemed to offer a promise of independence for the Kurds. Sadly, of course, that was never going to happen; so, here we are, many years later, and the Kurds are stymied at every turn! Now it’s their sometimes friends & allies, the Americans! Sure wish the the swamp at the State Dept. could be drained and their horrible and seemingly entrenched foreign policy objectives could be blown out of the water! And we absolutely MUST disengage from the Turkey-Iran-Iraq “axis of evil!!”

  • Joy Daniels Brower

    .I have known about the Kurds for more than 50 years, but strangely that first introduction was from a young socialist student from Norway! And then I well recall (in more recent times) how the late Christopher Hitchens, who was a huge supporter of their (independence) cause, actually backed his otherwise nemesis, George W. Bush, when the latter invaded Iraq and, for a moment, it looked as if there might be a future for an independent Kurdistan. Sadly, of course, that has yet to come to pass. We simply MUST disengage from the rotten Turkey-Iran “axis of evil!”

  • David Pakter

    Thank you Ben Cohen for having the courage to say what few other observers have had the courage to say. And for stating so very many things that needed to be said. The Kurds have indeed been given the Royal shaft by almost the entire world including the US government.
    What a sorry cabal of cowards we see everywhere we turn our gaze

  • Fred

    Again we witness gross betrayal in the Middle East. This time the Kurds. All these betrayals have their roots after the first world war, the Middle East was the private British / French Real Estate promises to the Jewish people & the Kurds was broken with propriety abandon. Why blame the US a later day participant ? Perfidious albion is not an idle epithet.

  • len


  • awillikers

    The Kurds have been very helpful in many ways to Israel. Trump helping the Kurds would also be a way of sticking it to Erdogan. As they say, that’s not bug, it’s a feature.

  • Reb_Yaakov

    The larger question is why the U.S. in recent history has been unable to produce a decent leader. In terms of the Torah’s enumeration of attributes for a leader, today’s leaders would probably be graded somewhere between a D- and an F+. Democracy is malfunctioning in the U.S, and in most countries in which the populace lacks shared values. And right here you have a strong argument for a Kurdistan: it would be for a people with more or less shared values. Perhaps much more so than what we see in Israel, where Judaism should be the shared set of values but isn’t.

    • Michael

      Once upon a time a young nation was formed based on common interests and shared values. The people wanted an end to colonial British religious persecution and they wanted independence. A spectacular document was created upon which that patchwork of humanity invested, grew and flourished.
      Today, that nation is fracturing under the weight of divisive self interests. We are dissolving into morally barren islands adrift in a sea with no horizon.

  • James Hunter

    is there such a thing as a last resort “noble terrorist”? that could be the resort the Kurds will find themselves in, who knows?. Look at them in iraq, iran, syria and turkey