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A Referendum, a Ballot and an Election Walk into a Bar…


Israel Endorses Kurdish Independence

David Halbginfer, New York Times, September 22nd 2017

Recap:

Israel is the only country to openly support a Kurdish referendum that calls for secession from Iraq.

The Context:

  • Kurds have sought an independent state since the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire [1]. Kurds, a group consisting of 25 million people in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people [2].

  • 93% of Iraqi Kurds voted in favor of secession from Iraq during the September 25th referendum. Another vote, this time for parliament and president, will take place in November.

  • Iraq opposes Kurdish statehood since it will come at the expense of Iraqi territory. Iran and Turkey oppose Kurdish statehood out of fear it will escalate separatist ambitions among their own Kurdish minorities. The United States (US) and United Nations (UN) fear the referendum could disrupt efforts to stabilize Iraq and Syria.

  • Israeli officials expressed its support for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq saying it is a “major interest for Israel [and] other Western countries [3].” Israel views the group as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries [4] and has maintained discreet military, intelligence and economic ties with the Kurds since the 1960’s.

  • Saladin, a Kurdish Sultan, treated the Jews humanely after his conquest of Jerusalem in the 12th century and notably hired a Jewish doctor, Maimonides, as his physician. Kurdish leaders have not publicly embraced Israel in the run-up to the referendum but Israeli flags can routinely be seen at Kurdish rallies in Erbil and Europe.

Conversation Points:

  • Will an independent Kurdistan prove valuable to Israel against Iran?

  • How must Israel balance its support for the Kurds and its delicate relationship with Turkey?

  • What benefits might Israel realize by openly siding with a burgeoning Kurdish state?

In Blow to Israel, Interpol Admits Palestine as Full Member

Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, September 27th 2017

Recap:

In a stinging diplomatic defeat for Israel, the world’s largest international police organization accepted the “State of Palestine” as a full member.

The Context:

  • Interpol enables member states to work together to thwart international crime. 75 of 133 voting member states backed Ramallah's membership bid in a secret ballot, despite vocal Israeli and US opposition. The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) first request for admittance in 2015 was rejected since it was submitted too late for consideration.

  • PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed the vote as a “victory” and PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would once again seek full membership status at the UN.

  • Palestine gained UN observer status in 2012 and has since joined more than 50 international organizations and agreements including the International Criminal Court and UNESCO [5].

  • Israel vociferously rejected the PA’s bid, contending that Palestine is not a state, thus ineligible for membership [6], and Israeli Official Zeev Elkin urged the government to immediately suspend all goodwill overtures to the PA since “one cannot wage war and at the same time enjoy gestures from the State of Israel.” Israeli officials fear the PA will use its Interpol membership to harass Israeli soldiers and politicians [7].

Conversation Points:

  • Does recognition of Palestinian statehood outside the framework of a negotiated settlement make a final status agreement all but impossible to achieve?

  • Does the Interpol vote negate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dictum that Israel’s global relationships are improving?

  • Will Ramallah’s support for terrorism hinder, rather than aid, Interpol’s efforts?

The Rise of Germany's Far Right: It's Impact on Israel

Gol Kalev, Jerusalem Post, September 25th 2017

Recap:

Established five years ago, Alternative for Deutschland’s (AfD) anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-EU platform managed to secure the party 13% of the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament. The vote marks the first time a far-right party is represented in the parliament since World War II. Angela Merkel, Germany’s current Chancellor, will retain her role and is now tasked with building a coalition.

The Context:

  • Members of AfD have referred to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as “a monument of shame,” called for Germany to honor fallen Nazi soldiers [8] and questioned the importance of holocaust education in schools [9]. AfD leader Alexander Gauland tried to assuage anti-Semitic concerns saying, “there is nothing in our program that could disturb the Jewish people who live in Germany.”

  • World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder lamented AfD’s success saying “it is abhorrent that a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform [10].“ Netanyahu welcomed Merkel’s win but made no mention of AfD’s advancement [11].

  • Nearly 90% of AfD politicians surveyed in a recent poll profess to care about Israel’s security [12].

Conversation Points:

  • Is there a difference between AfD and other ultra-right parties sprouting up in the US and Europe?

  • Should Germany’s past limit its ability to be nationalistic today?

  • Does being pro-Israel make AfD pro-Jewish?

Notes:

  1. Israel becomes first state to back an independent Kurdistan, Safin Hamed, Telegraph, September 14th 2017

  2. Erdogan threatens military action over Iraqi Kurdish referendum, Times of Israel, September 25th 2017

  3. Israeli PM voices support for independent Kurdistan, Baxtiyar Goran, Kurdistan 24, September 13th 2017

  4. Israel becomes first state to back an independent Kurdistan, Safin Hamed, Telegraph, September 14th 2017

  5. Interpol approves Palestinian membership bid, Al Jazeera, September 27th 2017

  6. Interpol Admits State Of Palestine As Member, Forward, September 27th 2017

  7. Palestinian Authority wins bid to join Interpol, Israel National News, September 27th 2017

  8. Day After Election Success: Far-right AfD Leader Questions Germany's Special Relationship With Israel, Wolfgang Rattay, Haaretz, September 24th 2017

  9. Loathed by Jews, Germany’s far-right AfD loves the Jewish state, Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, September 24th 2017

  10. Ibid.

  11. Israel premier congratulates Merkel, ignores AfD, Washington Post, September 25th 2017

  12. Loathed by Jews, Germany’s far-right AfD loves the Jewish state, Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, September 24th 2017


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