Why Israel Went Out on a Limb to Support Kurdish Independence

Sept. 25 2017

Today the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will go to the polls to vote on whether to declare independence from Iraq. Last week, breaking ranks with the U.S., other Middle Eastern leaders, and much of the world, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly announced his support for such a move. In doing so, he not only expressed sympathy with the Kurds’ aspiration to create what their opponents have derisively termed a second Israel—a non-Arab, democratic oasis in the midst of the Middle East—but also affirmed the longstanding ties between Israel and Iraqi Kurds, not to mention a sense of kinship between the Jewish and Kurdish peoples. David Halbfinger writes:

A breakaway Kurdistan could prove valuable to Israel against Iran, which has oppressed its own Kurdish population. But given the interwoven history and shared emotion underlying [Netanyahu’s] statement, present-day geopolitics can seem almost beside the point. The Kurds and the Jews, it turns out, go way back. . . .

The first Jews in Kurdistan, tradition holds, were among the lost tribes of Israel, taken from their land in the 8th century BCE. They liked it there so much, [the local legend goes], that when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians and let the Jews go back home, many chose instead to stick around. . . .

In the modern era, Kurdish Jews departed en masse for Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948, leaving Kurdish civil society so bereft that some recall its leaders still lamenting the Jewish exodus decades later.

Ties between the two have only grown warmer and more vital since the 1960s, as Israel and the Kurds—both minorities in an inhospitable region and ever in need of international allies— have repeatedly come to each other’s aid. . . . And while Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum, for fear of antagonizing the Arab world, the Israeli flag can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in [the regional capital of] Erbil and across Europe.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iraq, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Kurds


Winning Islam’s War of Ideas, Saudi-Style

March 19 2018

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. policymakers have understood the need to confront jihadism not only militarily but also ideologically; yet, writes John Hannah, they have had little success. Now Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’ reformist crown prince, appears willing and able to take up the fight, and Hannah urges Washington to support his efforts:

By an order of magnitude, al-Qaeda in 2018 enjoys a larger presence in more countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia than it did the day the Twin Towers were felled. . . . What’s consistently been missing from America’s strategy have been powerful partners in the Muslim world who can reliably be counted on to speak out authoritatively on matters of Islamic theology in ways that the United States simply cannot. That’s where Saudi Arabia comes in. It’s the birthplace of Islam and host to the faith’s two holiest mosques. Combined with abundant oil wealth, these assets bestow on the Saudis a measure of soft-power influence unrivaled in the Muslim world. . . .

For months, the crown prince and his closest advisers have relentlessly hammered the theme that Saudi Arabia’s modernization requires an embrace of “moderate Islam.” He’s slammed the extremist ideology that the kingdom did so much to empower after the Iranian revolution and acknowledges that “the problem spread all over the world.” . . . At home, the powers of the kingdom’s notorious religious police have been scaled back. Prominent hardline clerics have been jailed. On the all-important issue of female empowerment, the pace of change has been breathtaking. . . .

Now the U.S. imperative should be pressing Mohammed bin Salman to take his campaign for moderate Islam on the road. . . . There should be multiple elements to such an effort, but some immediate tasks come to mind. First, school textbooks. The Saudis promised to eliminate the hate-filled passages a decade ago. Progress has slowly been made, but the job’s still not done. Mohammed bin Salman should order it finished—this year. Behind the scenes, U.S. experts should provide verification.

Second, working with trusted partners in indigenous communities known for their religious moderation, the Saudis should conduct a thorough audit of the global network of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations that they’ve backed with an eye toward weeding out radical staff and content. Third, [they should] initiate a worldwide buyback of Saudi-distributed mistranslations of the Quran and other religious materials notorious for propagating extremist narratives.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Moderate Islam, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror