After Trump’s Betrayal, Don’t Forget Jewish Ties to the Kurds
After Donald Trump essentially green-lit the mass slaughter of innocent Kurds, Israeli Jews and their Christian allies congregated in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to invoke the Holocaust, pleading with Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Enough!”
Critical voices in Israel warn that, in addition to the lessons of the Holocaust, Jews in particular must worry that the Trump White House is no longer a reliable friend.
But we also must remember the deep bonds between the Jewish and Kurdish peoples.
Donald Trump is no historian or warrior, so he certainly won’t remember that the Kurds fought against and helped defeat the Nazis and Axis powers during World War II. In fact, they fought on behalf of the Allies in both world wars, only to be denied a state of their own — just as the British government betrayed the Jewish people’s quest for a homeland.
Jewish-Kurdish ties exploded anew in the 1990s, after Saddam Hussein used poison gas to kill thousands of Iraq’s own Kurdish citizens at Anfal. Before he died, Simon Wiesenthal warned that the fate of Iraqi Kurds mocked the world’s commitment to “Never Again.”
A few years later, an exhibit on genocide at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles focused on the Kurds. The Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper traveled to Iraq to pray at the mass grave of 5,000 gassed Kurds.
Yet many voices in both Israel and the US are still muted even about Turkey’s slaughter of Armenian innocents during World War I — the first 20th century genocide — because of reasons of state and diplomatic convenience.
Jews and Israelis in particular have special reason to speak up for the Kurdish people, cruelly divided between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
We should all remember the Jewish farmers of Kurdistan’s Sandur who resettled in Tiberias. In 1949, when Professor Walter J. Fischel visited Kurdistan, there were an estimated 8,500 Kurds who already lived in the new State of Israel.
He wrote in Commentary:
An automobile smash-up on a dangerous and almost impassable mountain road, which resulted in the death of a villager, brought men and women of the nearest villages together to the market-place to mourn. The victim was a “Yahudi,” I was told upon inquiry, and the people assembled there were all Jews from the neighboring villages. I had never seen a more picturesque or impressive mourning assembly.
Such Jews! Men virile and wild-looking; women wearing embroidered turbans, earrings, bracelets, even nose-rings, and with symbols tattooed into their faces — our brethren and sisters! When I asked one of the bystanders for his name, he answered, “Jonah.” I replied, “Jonah ben Amitai,” alluding to the name of the Biblical Prophet, Jonah, and he excitedly exclaimed, “Wallah, Shema Yisrael!” Yet he remained incredulous, taking me for an “Inglesi,” until the words “Zion,” “Yerushalayim,” “Shema Yisrael,” convinced him.
In the 21st century, we should build on their brotherly work during this new Kurdish time of trouble.
Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.