No going back

Turkish media claims Israel is sending Jewish Kurds back to Kurdistan

Conspiracy theory of a mass repatriation is making the rounds, ahead of unilateral independence referendum among the Kurds

Hebrew writing at the grave of the prophet Nahum, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (photo credit: Times of Israel/Lazar Berman)
Hebrew writing at the grave of the prophet Nahum, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (photo credit: Times of Israel/Lazar Berman)

Turkish media has in recent days been full of reports that nearly 70 years after the vast majority of Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel, Kurdish leader Masoud Barazani has reached a secret deal with Israel to have their descendants sent back.

The scare-mongering conspiracy theories claimed that the mass repatriation would take place after a unilateral independence referendum which the Kurdistan Regional Government has called for September 25, the Washington-based news site, Al-Monitor, reported Wednesday.

Al-Monitor said the “sensational, if hard-to-believe story,” attributed to a magazine called Israel-Kurd, had appeared in several pro-government websites, among them Yeni Akit and Aksam.

Much of the Kurdish Jewish community emigrated to Israel after the founding of the state. Nearly 200,000 Israeli Jews today are believed to have Kurdish origins, with half of them living in Jerusalem. Barazani – the surname of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President, Masoud Barazani, after the town of Barazan, is also common among Kurdish Jews.

The report is so unlikely that the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to even comment on it.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for Kurdish independence, but stopped short of backing the referendum.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has also spoken frequently about her support for a Kurdish state, which is bitterly opposed by Turkey, which has fought a decades long battle against the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party.

These Israeli expressions of support have apparently raised hopes among Kurds.

“As we approach September 25, more ordinary Iraqi Kurds express hope that Israeli officials’ statements in support of an independent Kurdistan bodes well for their putative state,” Al-Monitor wrote.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani (L) receives Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit on September 9, 2017, in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

“Iraqi Kurds think that, given the powerful Israeli and Jewish lobbies in the United States, Israeli support for an independent Kurdistan basically means US backing for Kurdish independence. Some Iraqi Kurds think, if Israel and the United States are with Kurdistan, who can stand against us?”

Iraq and Turkey on Thursday stepped up the pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan over its planned independence referendum, as the governor of oil-rich Kirkuk province that decided to take part in the vote was sacked.

Parliament, at Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s request, fired the governor of the northern province, Najm Eddine Karim, in a unanimous vote by 173 MPs present in the house.

With tensions rising, the Iraqi parliament this week also voted to oppose plans by leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq to hold the non-binding referendum.

The independence vote has faced strong opposition from the federal government in Baghdad and from neighboring Iran and Turkey, which fear it will stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizable Kurdish minorities.

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Critics of the vote include the United States, the European Union and even some members of Iraq’s 5.5 million-strong Kurdish minority.

Turkey, a strong opponent, warned Iraqi Kurdish leaders on Thursday that any referendum would “have a cost”.

The Jewish presence in Mesopotamia dates back to the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and the Babylonian conquest of Israel’s southern tribes in 586 BCE.

Immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan exit their plane on arrival in Israel, having flown via Tehran, late spring, 1951. (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

While a few Kurdish Jews settled in the northern Galilee town of Safed in the 16th century, and some more immigrated in the early 19th century, it was not until, and just after, Israel’s Independence in 1948 that anti-Jewish violence forced almost the entire community to up sticks and move to the new Jewish State.




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