HOWARD EPSTEIN: ISRAEL, COMPASSION AND KURDISTANDING
On what would you think that Washington DC, Moscow, Tehran, Ankara, Baghdad and Damascus could all agree? A tough one, clearly, and probably not previously on your radar. But it is important for it is about the possible birth of a nation.
The last nation to be born into our world was South Sudan. Israel accorded it recognition on July 10, 2011, the day after it became an independent state. One would like to think that the act was entirely altruistic, but it is hard to ignore the presence of around 10,000 South Sudanese who crossed into Israel from Egypt (that is the ones who were not shot dead crossing the Sinai) before the porousness of the border was controlled by the erection of a fence. (A fence!? What a travesty of Israeli democracy!) Only last week, the Israel PM promised to give south Tel Aviv back to the indigenous south Tel Avivians (most of whom, or whose parents, would have immigrated to Israel after 1946). Organizing a Sudanese Return is easier to achieve if you can talk to those running their homeland. Nevertheless, rachmanut may have been part of the motivation for being the first to recognise a new state born out of a desire to escape Muslim Arab violence. It is something with which we readily identify.
Later this month, in fact during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Penitence, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region sandwiched between such delights as Turkey, Iran, Iraq and what used to be Syria, the Kurdistan Regional Government is to hold a referendum, on September 25, on Kurdish independence.
Even before the referendum will be held (if it is, given that the governments of all the capitals listed at the head of this article wish to prevent the act of conception, or failing that, plan its abortion) Israel has indicated, in a low profile way, its intended life support for the tot, should it escape the infanticide planned for it by the unlikely allies ranged against it.
Back in July 2016, a Kurdistan news channel reported Reuven Azar, the Israeli Deputy Head of Mission in the US, saying: “We [Israel] think that the Kurdish people have shown throughout their history that they are interested [in achieving] the same goals that Israel is, which is prosperity for their people … [Kurds] are ready, like the Israelis … not to celebrate death, but to fight for life.” He added: “We face similar threats, and we face similar challenges, and have similar opportunities because we have the advantage of being able to prosper during times of peace,” that Israel’s relationship with Kurdistan is a “natural alliance” and that the two share the same values.
The current thinking in Jerusalem seems to be: recognition yes, military intervention to save the infant state no. Yet, one cannot rule out Israeli “advisers” becoming entrenched (if they are not already) within the Kurdish Peshmerga (the most effective force to have confronted Da’esh), for an Independent Kurdistan threatens to impede a determined Iranian march through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. Foreign policy is all about interests and, as you will remember, in Israel all policy is foreign policy.
It has been observed that the birth of a new state of Kurdistan would be akin to throwing hand-grenades into the Iraqi, southern Turkey, Syrian, Iranian sphere of influence. But who is going to notice another hand grenade there, the most dysfunctional and violent part of the world?
One of the four indispensable diplomatic achievements of Chaim Weizmann was his securing from President Truman in 1948 the commitment that the USA would be the first state to recognise the emergent Jewish State. Sure enough, eleven minutes after the reviled British Mandate ended, DC recognised Israel (if not Jerusalem as its capital). Soviet Russia followed and the bandwagon was rolling. Israel was well on its way to international recognition by most of the world – except, that is, the whole of the Arab world (save for Egypt and Jordan, in belated peace treaties) and most Muslim states howsoever remote, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Their loss.
If one man, Weizmann, was able to see the supreme importance of immediate recognition from the most significant world player, surely PM Netanyahu can see that Kurdistan, threatened with extinction at birth (as was Israel, when five Arab armies gate-crashed the baby-shower party), would benefit from immediate recognition by the region’s only superpower. It will not positively affect the mind-sets any of its immediate neighbours, but a groundswell of diplomatic achievements for what promises to be the region’s second democracy (you can forget Turkey in these terms for as long as the would-be Sultan runs things from his 2,200 room palace) will be invaluable for the Kurds. They can then go shopping for what they will need to sustain them, in a proper and organised way on a state-to-state basis. They will also be able to sell their fossil fuels that the world still needs, especially Europe, in thrall to their politically-fickle Russian suppliers.
Within one year – counted from last June to next May – Israel will have celebrated 50 years since the stunning victory of the Six Day War, 120 years last month since Herzl’s First Zionist Congress, 100 years on November 2 since the Balfour Declaration – also the achievement of Chaim Weizmann (and do not be diverted to false claimants, even by the former head of Mossad who claimed it as a victory for Jewish spies, given the Imperial War Cabinet minutes disprove this fanciful theory, or by those who claim it was meant to appeal to rich New York Jews) and, next May, the 70th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel. In this year of all years, we should spurn those with similar problems and aspirations to our own? It would be shameful if Israel were to evince a lack of compassion for, and a failure to identify with, a self-determination movement in our region – and in the seventieth year of our nationhood.
So Vive le Kurdistan or Am Kurdistan Chai! Let it be independent like Israel and, like Israel, prosper.
© Howard Epstein, September 2017
The author’s book, Chaim Weizmann: the Indispensable Zionist is available now:-
Paperback Edition – UK
Kindle Edition – UK
Paperback edition – USA
Kindle edition – USA