MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) is a Kurdish-Israeli who was born in Jerusalem to Jewish Kurdish parents from Cizire, Turkey. Levy was deputy finance minister in the previous government and before that served as chief of police. He told the website Rudow in an interview that he supports Kurdish independence. “I think we will support Kurdistan’s independence someday, like Israel,” he said. He explained why he qualified the statement with “someday,” saying, “We don’t really know what future awaits in the region. the situation in Iraq is not good, but we think the Kurds as a nation need to have a state of their own.” He added that intended to push the issue in the Knesset.
Levy grew up in a Jerusalem neighborhood near the Knesset that was “100% Kurdish.” “No one spoke Hebrew then. They only spoke Kurdish. It was a good feeling. Even now, when you ask people about the Kurdish neighborhood, they will show you the area where I was born.” Mickey Levy spoke of the dark, chaotic days of the intifada and the challenge of serving as a police chief then. His force was able to prevent twelve suicide missions, but 42 succeeded, killing 250 people and injuring 1,000. Defusing car bombs became routine, and the wall between Israel and the Palestinian territory was necessary, he says, to prevent new attacks. “I was in charge of a chaotic city,” he said. “We had to be on our guard constantly.” Levy described Yesh Atid’s position that there should be a Palestinian and a Jewish state, the latter with Jerusalem as its capital. “Believe me, if you ask Muslims whether or not they want to live in Israel with the Jews, they will answer ‘yes’ in private even if they might answer differently in public.” Levy feels the reason is that the Arabs want to benefit from Israeli healthcare and education and to carry an Israeli passport.
While Kurdistan and Israel may have good reasons to establish ties, they have an equally good reason to keep any mutual assistance off the radar. The Kurds want to avoid being seen as allied with Israel to avoid persecution from Baghdad, which already dreads Kurdish attempts to break away. As reported in the Middle East Quarterly, the Iraqi defense minister said in 1966 that he suspected the Kurds of trying to start a “second Israel,” which would, from the Arab point of view, lead to a second nakba (catastrophe) after the one that happened in Palestine in 1948 (i.e. the founding of the State of Israel). Ofra Bengio writes, “these linkages and parallels are intended to demonize and delegitimize both [nations] while also implying illegitimate relations between them.”
In 1991, when Saddam Hussein crushed a Kurdish revolt, the Kurdish community in Israel staged a demonstration and organized relief efforts. This led to the establishment of the Israeli-Kurdish friendship league in Jerusalem. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), took notice of this and began advocating for the Kurds as a natural ally, particularly because it was a “small nation struggling for self-determination in a hostile Arab neighborhood.” Michael Amitay, the son of AIPAC director from 1974-80 Morris Amitay, was director of the Washington Kurdish Institute, which engaged in humanitarian aid efforts and research to measure the long-term effects of the chemical weapons the Kurds were exposed to when Saddam Hussein was in power. The growing connection between Israel and the Kurds inspired Israeli writers and filmmakers. Novelist Sam Michael’s “Aida” dealt with a Kurdish woman escaping persecution from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime, and she hides in the apartment of one of the few Jews left in Babylon. The 2003 Israeli film “Forget Baghdad” features Israeli Kurds talking about their heritage in Kurdistan.