Kurdish magazine sparks wrath by urging Jews to return to Iraq
Arbil — A new magazine in Iraq’s Kurdistan region has caused furore among conservative Muslims with a rousing call for Jews to leave Israel — and come back to Iraq.
The magazine, "Israel-Kurd," is the brainchild of Dawood Baghestani, the 62-year-old former chief of the autonomous northern region’s human rights commission.
The glossy, full-colour monthly in Kurdish and English has a lofty mission: to help solve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict by convincing more than 150,000 Kurdish Jews living in Israel to return to Iraqi Kurdistan, Baghestani told AFP.
"The biggest reason behind the complexity of the Palestinian problem is the unjust practices of Arab regimes against the Jews — there are more than 1.5 million Jews originally from Arab countries in Israel," Baghestani said.
"If the Jews had not been subject to an exodus, the Palestinians wouldn’t have been either," he said, referring to the flight of 700,000 Palestinians from the newly created Jewish state in 1948 during the first Arab-Israeli war.
"If the situation in our new federal and democratic Iraq, and particularly in Kurdistan, becomes stable, then many Jews would want to return and reduce the number of Jewish settlements in Palestine."
The latest edition of the 52-page magazine, which has a circulation of around 1,500 copies, features a woman draped in an Israeli flag on the cover.
Inside are stories about Kurdish Jewish traditions and photographs from the first half of the twentieth century, as well as arguments on how a return of Jews would help to build a wealthy and strong Kurdistan.
But many people in Iraq are not buying the argument.
"I’m suspicious. I don’t see the point of this kind of publication," said Zana Rustayi, a representative of the Islamist Jamaa Islamiya party in the regional assembly.
"The Kurds are part of the Muslim nation, and Kurdistan is part of Iraq."
Iraq has no relations with Israel, and the country was an implacable foe of the Jewish state under the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who was overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2003.
A Sunni member of parliament in Baghdad, Mithal Alusi, was suspended from parliament and threatened with charges last year after visiting Israel for a conference. The decision was later overturned by the constitutional court.
Kurdistan does have a warmer history with the Jewish state, however. Many of the current crop of Kurdish leaders have visited Israel in past decades.
Jews lived in Kurdistan for centuries, working as traders, farmers and artisans.
But the creation of Israel and the rise of Arab nationalism in the mid-twentieth century dramatically altered the situation, spurring most of Kurdistan’s Jews to leave.
Baghestani — who has been to Israel four times, including on a clandestine trip in 1967 — denies that he works for the Israelis.
"What I am asking for is enshrined in the constitution: every Iraqi has the right to return to one’s homeland. Jews who were Iraqi citizens were subject to injustice," he said.
"If every Arab country allowed the Jews to return, ensured their safety and gave them back their land, Palestinian refugees would be able to return to their territory because Israel would not need so much land."
Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish Coalition MP in Baghdad, disputes this. He says that while relations with Israel may be a nice idea, such a move would not be pragmatic for a region ringed by other Muslim states.
"Kurdistan needs the Arabs. We are living in an Arab country and we are federal region within Iraq. We don’t need a relationship with (Israel), we need a relationship with Arabs, we need a relationship with Iran, we need to be close to Turkey," Othman said.
"I haven’t heard of any Jews in Israel trying to return to Kurdistan. I think they’re better off there."