Year after Nobel winner pleaded with MKs, Israel still stalls on Yazidi genocide
Opposition to push law again; only 1 coalition MK signed up

Year after Nobel winner pleaded with MKs, Israel still stalls on Yazidi genocide

Visiting in 2017, new peace laureate Nadia Murad urged Knesset to declare mass slaughter of her people a genocide, but a bill to do so has gone nowhere and the government is silent

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who escaped Islamic State captivity, tours Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on July 24, 2017 (Mickey Noam-Alon/IsraAID)
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who escaped Islamic State captivity, tours Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on July 24, 2017 (Mickey Noam-Alon/IsraAID)

In July 2017, a young Yazidi survivor of Islamic State captivity appealed to a handful of lawmakers at a conference held in Israel’s parliament to recognize the killing of her people as a genocide.

“My visit here today is to ask you to recognize the genocide being committed against my people, in light of our peoples’ common history of genocide,” said the former IS sex slave, Nadia Murad, then 24 years old.

“The Jews and the Yazidis share a common history of genocide that has shaped the identity of our peoples, but we must transform our pain into action. I respect how you rebuilt a global Jewish community in the wake of genocide. This is a journey that lies ahead of my community,” Murad added in Arabic, speaking through an interpreter.

During her Israel trip, Murad also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with other Yazidi activists to discuss the documentation of atrocities, drawing on the Jewish experience of persecution.

Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova (L) with Yazidi survivor of the Islamic State Nadia Murad in the Knesset, on July 24, 2017. (courtesy)

Murad on Friday was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, for their work on highlighting and eliminating the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

But a year on, and despite a draft proposal by an opposition lawmaker, the Jewish state appears no closer to recognizing the IS massacre of Yazidi men and sex enslavement of thousands of women as a genocide.

Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova first lodged the bill to recognize the mass slaughter as such in June 2017. She presented her proposal to the government in the recent summer Knesset session for coalition backing, but “the government did not formulate an opinion on the matter,” she told The Times of Israel this week. “So it was agreed that the [government] response and a vote would be held at another time.”

In this file photo taken on December 13, 2016, Nadia Murad, a public advocate for the Yazidi community in Iraq and survivor of sexual enslavement by the Islamic State group, delivers a speech after being awarded the 2016 Sakharov human rights prize at the European parliament in Strasbourg. (AFP Photo/Frederick Florin)

“I intend to raise the bill for a vote in the coming weeks,” she added. “Ayelet Shaked, at the time, promised to consider supporting it, so we’ll see what happens now.”

Shaked heads the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which lends coalition support to proposals presented to the Knesset. As an opposition lawmaker, Svetlova’s bill is dependent on government support to pass. As of now, there is only one coalition MK signed on to the bill, Likud MK Yehudah Glick, alongside eight opposition members. The Knesset resumes next week, following a three-month recess.

Shaked’s office did not respond to requests for comment on her position.

Asked whether the Foreign Ministry supports the recognition, spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said: “At this stage, we are attentive to the tragedy of the Yazidi nation and have given them humanitarian aid in the past few years.”

Svetlova’s bill calls on Israel to recognize the massacres as a genocide and mark the event annually on August 3, and recommends the education minister adopt curricula on the atrocities and the prime minister convene an official memorial.

Yazidi women carrying their children on January 1, 2015. (Courtesy of Nareen Shammo)

In August 2014, two months after sweeping across Iraq’s Sunni heartland, IS jihadists made a second push into an area that had been under Kurdish security control. Thousands of Yazidi men were massacred when the fighters attacked the town of Sinjar and thousands of women and girls were kidnapped and enslaved, Murad among them. Mass graves have since been unearthed in the region.

According to the religious affairs ministry of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, IS has abducted more than 6,400 Yazidis. Around half have been rescued or managed to escape. The fate of the others is unknown, although IS has lost most of the territory it seized in Iraq, including Sinjar.

Of the 550,000 Yazidis living in Iraq before the jihadists’ 2014 assault, nearly 100,000 have left the country.

The Kurdish-speaking minority is neither Arab nor Muslim and was mostly based around Sinjar Mountain, between the city of Mosul and the Syrian border. It practices its own religion, a blend of faiths that is rooted in Zoroastrianism but borrows from Islam, Christianity, and other beliefs.

In March 2015, UN investigators said the IS assault on the Yazidis was a premeditated effort to exterminate an entire community — crimes that amount to genocide. They called on the International Criminal Court to investigate.

A mass grave of Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq. (CC BY-SA 4.0: Wikipedia)

In calling the massacres a genocide, the UN argued that IS had planned to “erase” them and had intentionally separated men from women to prevent Yazidi children from being born.

“ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community,” the UN said in a June 2016 report.

The United States House of Representatives in March 2016 unanimously passed a motion declaring the mass killings a genocide, followed by the Scottish parliament, the British House of Commons in April 2016, Canada in October 2016, the French Senate and National Assembly in December of that year, and the Armenian parliament in January 2017.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Shaked, and others broke ranks with Western leaders to support Kurdish independence, Israeli leaders have not staked out a public position on aiding the Yazidi plight.

Separately, the Knesset has repeatedly refrained from recognizing the Armenian genocide, primarily to avoid angering its official ally and rhetorical foe Turkey.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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