Why Are Kurds Waving Israeli Flags at Pro-independence Rallies?

Published September 18th, 2017 - 01:57 GMT
Iraqi Kurds fly an Israeli flag and Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum (Safin Hamed/AFP)
Iraqi Kurds fly an Israeli flag and Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum (Safin Hamed/AFP)
  • Israeli flags are popping up at Kurdish pro-independence rallies
  • Tel Aviv is the only government to officially back Kurdish independence
  • Kurds and Israelis have a long history of close relations
  • Iraqi Kurds will vote on independence next Monday 


by Rosie Alfatlawi

An unexpected sight has been appearing at Kurdish pro-independence rallies.

In amongst the red, white and green of the Kurdish flags, the blue and white of Israel has been spotted.

The Israeli flag has been raised in recent months at demonstrations in Belgium, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The latter plans a non-binding independence referendum to take place on September 25, much to the chagrin of Baghdad, the US, Turkey and Iran.

Iraqi Kurdish support for Israel seems to be widespread.

For instance, when a hashtag calling on “Kurds and Arabs” to take selfies together took off in Iraq, this tweet with 40 likes and retweets said the tag should be “Kurds and Israel” instead.


This man from Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan made the top comment on an article from Israel's Haaretz.

Why are Kurds raising the Israeli flag?

Kurdish support for Israel is not difficult to understand: Tel Aviv is the only regional or international government to give its backing to an independent Kurdish state.

“Israel […] supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve a state of their own,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week.

His statement was nothing new for Israeli foreign policy.

In fact, Israel and the region’s Kurds, split between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, have long found common ground against a perceived Arab threat.

Israel has had military, intelligence and business ties to the Kurds since the 1960s, and Netanyahu has made several similar statements since 2014.

In recent times, Israel, which does not have any official diplomatic relations with the Baghdad government, may have come to see Iraqi Kurds as a buffer against Iranian influence in Iraq.

The Iraqi government last year made the mostly Shia Hashd al-Shaabi collection of militias, many of whom receive direct Iranian support, an official part of Iraq’s military.

This was just one indication of the considerable influence wielded by Israel’s foe Iran on the governance of Iraq.

It is not just  Israelis and Kurds who have drawn a parallel between the two. Kurdistan has for decades been referred to as a “second Israel” by Arabs, including most recently Iraqi Vice President and former PM, Nouri al-Maliki.

“We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in the north of Iraq,” al-Maliki said Sunday, AFP reported.

Iraqi Arabs are even using the Kurdish-Israel closeness as a further reason to oppose Kurdish independence.


Down, down Israel, that is what Sadr the second [father of Muqtada al-Sadr], may he rest in peace, would say when leading Friday prayers. And now the Iraqi flag is flying side-by-side with the Kurdish flag in northern Iraq.

(Pictured: Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani and Iraqi Vice President Nour al-Maliki)

Those who will burn the country again. Agents of Israel and America who are leading a plan to ignite the country in an ethnic war after they handed over half of Iraq to ISIS.



How does Israeli support for Kurdistan relate to regional relations?

Israeli backing for Kurdish independence adds to already highly complex regional dynamics.

Israeli news site Haaretz suggested that Netanyahu’s statement of support was specifically an attempt to deliver a message to Turkey.

The Israeli PM had juxtaposed Israel’s classification of the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terror group, with Turkey’s support for “the terror organization Hamas”.

In this way, Haaretz claimed, Netanyahu was using support for Kurdish independence to tell Turkey “those in glass houses should not throw stones.”

The site later reported that Turkish news outlets were circulating “fake news” of an Israeli-Kurdish deal to resettle “200,000 Kurdish Jews” in the proposed new state. This, as part of the Turkish campaign to discredit the Kurdish independence efforts.

While tensions are rising, however, between Israel’s ally US and Turkey, Washington has itself condemned the referendum, calling for it to be scrapped outright. In fact, condemnation of the Kurdish referendum is a rare matter Iran, Turkey and the US can agree on.

Why do the Kurds want independence?

Kurds were split by national borders imposed following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, and since that point have unsuccessfully sought an independent state.

In Iraq, since the 1990s they have enjoyed autonomous rule over the northern Kurdistan region, as well as participation in the Baghdad parliament. Alongside Arabic, Kurdish is an official language of Iraq.

These concessions have not quenched Iraqi Kurds’ thirst for an independent state, however.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called the referendum “playing with fire” and warned of military intervention should the Iraqi population be “threatened by the use of force outside the law.” This, after parliament authorized al-Abadi to take measures against the upcoming referendum.

On Friday, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,”

“The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.” 

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