A bill introduced to the Israeli Knesset by Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union party pushes for easing access to Kurdistan for Israelis. Kurds recently held an independence referendum earlier this year in which Israel was the only public supporter. The referendum received 93% approval by Kurds across the Kurdish region situated in northern Iraq. Surrounding states, Iraq, Iran, Syria and even Syria reacted with threats, sanctions and invasion on historical Kurdish territories regained from the fight against the Islamic State.
Kurds and Jews go back a long time, Saladin Ayubi - a Kurd, conquered Jerusalem, treated the Jews humanely and was known to have hired a Jewish doctor, Maimonides as his physician.
When the State of Israel was established, Kurds and Jews were isolated from one another due to Arab and Iranian state policies of condemning Israel. Following the establishment of the state in 1948, thousands of Jewish families were forced to flee Iraq and Kurdish regions due to fear of persecution. The Kurds helped Jews leave their homes; today nearly 200,000 Kurdish Jews live in Israel-mostly in Jerusalem. In the 70’s, Israel provided military support, intelligence sharing, training, anti-aircraft weaponry and military hospitals to the Kurds.
Today, Kurds in Israel openly celebrate their cultural ties through dress, music and history without any fear and are supported by Israelis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the Kurdish independence vote in September stating, “Israel supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own support.”
Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki warned that he will not allow a “second Israel” days before the referendum was held.
Most recently, a first of its kind at the Knesset, MKs united in a conference titled "Kurdistan and Israel, together towards peace and stability in the Middle East." MK Svetlova argued that “there are similarities in our destinies.”
Tzipi Livini stated “we understand we live in a world of challenges and there is an extremist religious ideology that is taking over with terrorist organizations and we as a state and you (Kurds) face the same nature of threat and it needs to be addressed by all of us.”
Yossi Yonah’s, whose parents were born in Ramadi, Iraq, stated “they (Kurds) have been suffering persecution in the various states they exist, so this enhances the justification of the demand for self-determination.”
Ksenia Svetlova specified in regard to the bill, “it’s important for Israeli citizens who are interested in pursuing ties with the Kurds to know that when they come back from Kurdistan they won’t be persecuted by a variety of security agencies, and this is unfortunately what happens now.”
Following the referendum, Iraq banned the flying of the Israeli flag across the country and prohibited the travel to Israel from any airport inside the country. Compared to before, Kurds openly waived the Israeli flag and were able to travel visa free to and from the Kurdistan region airports.