Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed ministers in his government to avoid speaking out about the Kurdish independence referendum that took place Monday in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.
The Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry would not confirm or comment on the purported gag order, but top officials, speaking anonymously, acknowledged the instruction.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu publicly backed Kurdish independence while distancing himself from comments by a retired Israeli general, who said he did not consider the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, a terror group.
Responding to a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy by former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan, Netanyahu said Israeli policy on the PKK was the opposite.
“Israel opposes the PKK and considers it a terrorist organization, in contrast to Turkey, which supports the terrorist group Hamas,” he said on September 13, while on a state visit to Argentina. “While Israel is opposed to any kind of terrorism, it supports the legitimate means of the Kurdish people to obtain their own state.”
But some two weeks later, as Iraqi Kurds flocked to polling booths to vote in a non-binding referendum on independence, such Israeli pronouncements have vanished.
Netanyahu “went somewhere between then and now,” said one top coalition politician, who declined to say more or speak on the record.
That was likely a reference to Netanyahu’s trip to the United Nations General Assembly last week in New York during which he met with US President Donald Trump and other leaders from the region and around the world.
Also Monday, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli cabinet minister as saying that “Bibi [Netanyahu] asked us not to” comment on the referendum because it was “too sensitive.”
Monday’s referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan was openly opposed by both the US and Turkey, who may have pressured Netanyahu not to express support for the vote.
Similarly, some Kurdish leaders have balked at overt support from Israel, as they face charges from Arab, Turkish and Iranian leaders that an independent Kurdish state would be a potential “second Israel” — that is, an enemy — in their midst.
However, some Kurds have flaunted support from and ties with the Jewish state, waving Israeli flags at pro-independence rallies.
Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi lawmaker have used images of the Israeli flags to stoke conspiracy theories of the plebiscite being a Zionist plot.