Solidarity and Double Standards: Why Palestine but not Kurdistan?

By Zwan Mahmod:

Kurds and supporters protest in London; Pic -

Kurds and supporters protest in London; Pic –

The Palestinian cause is well known and many, all around the world, stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. A people without a state who have been struggling for one for nearly 70 years. This support is generally underpinned by the principle of self-determination.

Compare this, though, to the campaign for Kurdish independence and statehood and the support vanishes. It is important to note that the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own, not a well-known fact. Their struggle, furthermore, has been ongoing for a century since the fall of the Ottoman empire. Yet, despite this, the Kurdish cause is curiously neglected by those who campaign for Palestine.

There are two broad groups who support the Palestinian cause. Firstly, there are the Palestinians themselves and, more broadly, the world’s Muslims. The former have an obvious direct interest in the issue and the latter commonly appeal to their sense of religious duty to their brothers and sisters. The notion of the Ummah, the Arabic term for the “community” or “brotherhood”, of Muslim peoples is the reason it is argued that the Palestinian cause is not only an Arab issue but a global Muslim one. The second group are predominantly westerners who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and argue that Israeli policy has been and is wrong or illegal. This is most common amongst the left and liberals but exists more generally in Western populations. The question for both of these groups is why do they fall so silent with the Kurdish cause?

Last week posters were scattered across the LSE campus which asked “Can Palestine be free?” The SWP (Socialist Workers’ Party) were also on campus giving out leaflets and asking people to attend a meeting on Palestine. Has such action been taken on behalf of the Kurdish people, by the SWP or by any other far-left groups? If so, how rare is it compared to the flood of protest on behalf of Palestine?

There is, of course, an explanation for this. Some can genuinely claim ignorance as the media and journalists do focus on Palestine and ignore Kurdistan but it is still the responsibility of these individuals to familiarise themselves with the Kurdish cause once they are alerted to it. Muslims who exclusively support Palestine have the most to answer for in regard to the question posed. Are the predominantly Muslim Kurds not also part of their Ummah? What allows the Palestinians to receive such attention, especially in light of the Kurds fight against theocracy in the form of IS?

The question, unfortunately, is not a matter of who the victim is but seems rather to be who the aggressor is. For this reason some believe it to be honourable to defend the Palestinians against what to them is the primary enemy and consequently can barely recognise another legitimate cause, in this case, that of the Kurds. The anti-Semitism of many on the Palestinian side is not direct but indicated by their exclusive obsession with Israel.

In this regard, Iran provides a useful case study. Quite often when Iran’s nuclear programme and its human rights record is brought up the topic is instinctively flipped to Israel’s weapons and their treatment of the Palestinians. Can one not condemn Iran whilst simultaneously condemning Israel? The disproportionate focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to be precisely because it is Israel is the chosen enemy, an easy target.

The Kurds fight for independence against Turkey, Syria, Iran and now IS. But taking issue with Israel above all else, often to the exclusion of anything else, is such an embedded meme among the two groups I identified earlier, that the Palestine lobby very often finds itself incapable of showing its solidarity with the Kurds. It remains to be seen what kind of event or geopolitical shift would shake them into an honourable and consistent position.

Zwan Mahmod is a student at the LSE

12 Responses to Solidarity and Double Standards: Why Palestine but not Kurdistan?
  1. Jan Best de Vries
    October 27, 2014 | 10:19

    Dear Zwan Mahmod,
    May I first suggest to you to read of the American author Margaret MacMillan her brilliant book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (2002)? Then you’ll realize that the present-day countries of West Asia are just a construction based upon the decisions made by only 3 man from the West to divide the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves (oil!): Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson. Jews, Palestinians, Turks, Kurds etc. are all victims of both colonial thinking at the time and their own expectations and ambitions. This having been said, something should be said about the Kurds. First about their cultural belonging: like most Iranians, they speak an Indo-European language like I myself, for me it is not difficult to understand that pesh may be compared with French pour and merga with French mort, meaning “for the death”, just a bit another development of language in West Asia but nevertheless easy to learn for a Dutchman. As for their religions, Islam was forced upon them (originally being Medes, like upon the Persians in Iran), by Arabs. So under normal conditions, both peoples count moderate muslims, because they never have forgotten what mishappened to them from Arabs. In Kurdistan (and in Iran: Jazd, Check Check) Zoroastrian worshippers were never completely massacred, a typical characteristic of fanatic muslims then and now, in Kurdistan live Jewish Kurds under Judaism, the Peshmerga of the KDPI who trains me is a christian, but after all their bad experiences from muslims I wouldn’t dare to guess how many Kurds and Iraniansare just secular in 2014…. Finally the political situation. The only state in West Asia who strongly sympathizes with the Kurds and wants them to get an independent state is Israel, did you know that, by the way? This is no reason why the Israelians should not create in, hopefully, the near future for the state of Palestina a corridor between the Westbank and Gaza, but I repeat: the only real allies of the Kurds in West Asia nowadays are the Jews of Israel, the 70.000 Kurds in that country, of course, not excepted….

    • Zwan Mahmod
      October 28, 2014 | 20:04

      Thanks, I will check out that book, but yes I was aware of the artificial nature of most of the middle east. I’ve written an article on here about IS, Turkey and the Kurds and you’ll see I refer to the break up of the Ottoman empire and the consequences for the Kurds. And yes I know Israel to be allies of the Kurds of course, because the latter are not highly religious but rather more nationalistic because of their historic circumstances and fight against theocracy as you see in their resistance to IS. The issue I was addressing in this article was that many muslims can quite easily proclaim solidarity with the Palestinian cause by referring to the notion of muslim solidarity yet why not how that solidarity with Kurds who are 95% muslims. There is a clear hypocrisy and inconsistency in the pro-palestine lobby and I do think its largely because of anti-Semitism on the part of many who don’t fight for the victim but fight against the oppressor. In other words the fact that it is Israel they are fighting is more important to some that the fact that they can fight for a landless people. Thanks for you comment on the article, its appreciated.

  2. Peshmerga
    October 28, 2014 | 03:52

    Viva independence for South Kurdistan!

    • Zwan Mahmod
      October 28, 2014 | 20:05

      Thank you, but we should think more broadly and proclaim support for the independence of a greater Kurdistan, not only the south.

  3. Kuvan Bamarny
    October 28, 2014 | 11:42

    The problem of Palestine is Jewish and Christian do not recognize Islam as a true religion of God or recognize its sanctities.They rather perceive them a threat to their security because of the ideological differences and bloody history they have in between over the course of time.

    As you know the majority of Palestinian people ar Moslems and can not abandon their beliefs for others or survive with out it.This all together creates a state of ideological conflict ,mistrust and a berries to a peaceful coexistence for all.

    You have also the issue of Zionism ,which many Moslem people think it is a world movement who are not Jewish but rather are business men who have the ambition to take control over the world.

    It would be a good idea if Israel embrace the Palestinian people ,give them Israeli citizenship and treat them equally like all other Israeli citizens under one banner Israel is for all ,Jewish, christens and Moslems.

    • Ingrid
      October 29, 2014 | 16:27

      I think hat you say is wrong. There is 22 arab states, 1 jewish, (which the Arabs want to erase and make a 23 arab state) and no kurdish tate. Also, palestinians have proven they do not accept christians and jews. Whilst Palestinians when they got self-rule, used it to terrorize the jews and persecute the christians, th muslim kurds on the other hand, when they got some self-rule in Syria and Iraq, they defended the christians and yezidis, and built a society of prosperity, not of terror. This means the kurds are far more worthy of Independence, they are more to be trusted by their neighbours, and their state will not be one of racial and religious cleansing of minorities. Whilst I do support a demilitarized Palestine, I fully support a strong and independant Kurdistan, they have shown more than any other nation in the Middle East, that they are able to stay true to their religion whilst respecting minorities

  4. Ari
    October 28, 2014 | 20:43

    KRG president Masood Barzani has met secretly with the US president Barrack Obama in White House to make preparations for announcing an independent Kurdistan sometimes between March-July 2015, according to some KDP officials in Washington.

    • Zwan Mahmod
      October 28, 2014 | 22:36

      Can you provide me with a source on that?

  5. kelly al-saleh
    March 28, 2015 | 09:55

    I’m part Palestinian (father’s side) and I support the Kurds and want a peaceful solution with Israel and a diverse, democratic Middle East

  6. dshamz
    June 25, 2015 | 18:49

    Although I broadly agree with the concern that the author raises regarding the relative paucity of support for the Kurdish struggle, this article makes quite a few questionable claims that warrant a response, and I think that the approach is counter-productive in that it pits the Palestinian and Kurdish struggles against one another.

    Firstly, I agree with and fully support the Kurdish claim to self-determination. This is a basic principle that cannot be denied to any people.

    Secondly, regarding organizers in the West involved in Palestine solidarity work (of which I am one), I think that there is some responsibility for us – given, as you point out, the broad success at popularizing support for the Palestinian struggle – to reach out to Kurdish groups to elevate the profile of the Kurdish struggle. Palestinian solidarity organizers are in possession of networks and resources that could be deployed in solidarity with Kurds. This is something that I think ought to happen, and something that I have attempted to actualize in my own work for the sake of consistency.

    However, stating that “the anti-Semitism of many on the Palestinian side is not direct but indicated by their exclusive obsession with Israel” is unlikely to help facilitate this approach, or to win you many friends, mainly because I don’t think that this is an accurate understanding of why people in the West engage in Palestine solidarity work at all.

    Certainly there are some anti-Semites hanging around – this is unfortunate and they ought to be run out of the movement.

    But there are number of other factors that carry far more weight and have to be considered here.

    Firstly, Palestine solidarity organizers have been very successful in framing the issue as one of a largely white population (and there can be no denying that Jews are in fact white these days) forcibly subjugating a non-white population, and as an instance of a racially motivated settler colonialism. I believe this is an accurate characterization – but that aside, why does this matter? Well, for most people in the the West, the revulsion towards racial supremacy and colonialism is deeply embedded in hegemonic discourse. This framing makes the case for Palestine an easier sell, with South Africa and the American civil Rights movement still fresh in the historical memory.

    Secondly, and relatedly, there is the matter of the ‘special relationship’ between most Western states and the Israeli state. There is really no parallel here in the Kurdish case. Western states typically give Israel an unmatched level of political, diplomatic, military, and economic support, not granted to any other state or any other people in the world. Israel is one of the two lynchpins of imperialist strategy in the Middle East (the other being Saudi Arabia). If one accepts the above characterization of the Israeli state and the Zionist project as a racially motivated settler colonialism, then one’s own government’s enthusiastic support for such a project brings the issue much closer to home and (correctly) appear all the more odious and pressing. Living in Canada right now, I can attest to this (which makes the Canadian government’s ‘support’ for the Kurdish struggle frankly totally inconsistent and repulsive).

    Lastly, and, again, relatedly, Palestine solidarity organizers in the West generally operate as part of the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. The key to note here is that this is an approach was developed and endorsed by Palestinian civil society itself, building off of the tactic of the same name used against South Africa during the years of the apartheid regime. It also works solidly within the parameters of international law, providing the movement with a solid ground of legitimacy. This gives activists in the West a clear direction, strategy, and mandate when it comes to solidarity. To my knowledge (and I apologize if I’m mistaken), the Kurdish struggle has no equivalent. The upshot, of course, is that even if many people desire to show solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, they will be unsure about how to organize around this aside from attending the odd marginal demonstration (unfortunately).

    A few more points.

    There are dangerous trends that we have to acknowledge – not least of all Turkey’s Erdogan-era ‘neo-Ottoman’ imperialist project, that tends to re-cast political struggles across the Middle East in terms of a shared pan-Islamist identity. Turkey’s recently-discovered ‘support’ for Palestinians has no doubt had a disorganizing and confusing effect on some Palestine solidarity activists. This is why, as I said earlier, there is an onus on established Palestine solidarity activists to cut through this bullshit, and to clearly establish the universal principle of solidarity which must ground the movement. This entails reaching out to Kurdish groups and elevating the status of their struggle, and proving the advantages of consistency in solidarity.

    Another point. Organizers (and people more generally) have to budget their time wisely, and to act where they will make the most impact. In the context of a growing Palestine solidarity movement that’s racking up successes left and right, and that possesses a clear mandate, moral imperative, and strategic orientation, social-justice oriented people will tend gravitate towards these groups.

    But, basically, for the growing number of people who support Palestinians in the West (many of whom are white), I would draw the opposite conclusion than the one you have – they are generally motivated not because they are somehow ‘anti-Semitic’ (a claim which simply reproduces the most vulgar propaganda), but rather because they identify as non- or anti-racists who see Israel (correctly) as a racist and colonial state who’s activity consists less of democracy and more of ‘demographic management’. When it comes to solidarity with Kurds, the narrative and institutional structures just aren’t as developed. This is something that Palestine solidarity organizers could certainly help with and, in my opinion, ought to contribute to. We shouldn’t view solidarity with Palestinians or with Kurds as a zero-sum-game.

    • yvette
      August 10, 2015 | 10:49

      These are the demographics of the Jewish Population of Israel by paternal country of origin from Wikipedia.
      TOTAL 5,818,000 100%
      From Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Former Soviet Union by paternal country of origin: 2,767,000 47.5%
      Russia/USSR 1,018,000 20.9%
      Poland 400,000 8.3%
      Romania 351,000 7.6%
      Other Europe 168,000 3.7%
      USA/Canada/Australia/NZ 165,000 2.8%
      Germany/Austria 160,000 2.7%
      Bulgaria/Greece 97,000 1.9%
      South America 82,000 1.4%
      Hungary 63,000 1.3%
      Czechoslovakia 60,000 1.2%
      UK/Ireland 40,000 0.4%
      South Africa 20,000 0.4%
      From Asia (excluding FSU countries), South America and Africa (excluding South Africa) by paternal country of origin: 2,921,000 50.2%
      Morocco 800,000 15.2%
      Iraq 404,000 7.7%
      Yemen 295,000 4.9%
      Iran 236,000 4.0%
      Algeria/Tunisia 224,000 3.8%
      France 150,000 2.5%
      Other Asia 150,000 2.5%
      Turkey 147,000 2.5%
      Libya 136,000 2.3%
      Egypt 112,000 1.9%
      Other Asia 200,000 1.7%
      India/Pakistan 76,000 1.3%
      South America 25,000 0.4%
      Other Africa 3,000 0.05%
      Beta Israel: Ethiopia 130,000 2.2%

  7. PS4Kurdistan
    October 26, 2015 | 08:27

    As a Palestinian, I agree with this article’s core. There is a serious failure by Palestinians to recognize the rights of Kurds to their own country and self-determination not just in Iraq but also in Syria, Iran and Turkey. And I strongly hope that they don’t settle for just a state in Iraq out of practicality. Greater Kurdistan is their right and as much as I love my Syrian and Iraqi brethren, they are wrong about this. As they fought for independence from the Ottomans then the Imperialists, they should recognize that it is not up to them to force Kurds to remain within an Arab state. Kurds are welcome to be part of the Arab citizenry by choice not force. And opting out of that choice doesn’t mean animosity with them it means mutual respect and regard. As for worth, I don’t think the suffering of one people can be put above another’s. In addition to Palestine and Kurdistan, there are many others fighting for independence like the Basque,Catalonia, Falklands, Circiassia..etc. Some more violently than others but it is one fight. Finally in regards to Palestinians resettling in other Arab countries, why? I am Palestinian not Lebanese or Iraqi or Egyptian. They are all wonderful people having lived among all of them for over 60 years but I am Palestinian and it is my right to reside and be an active citizen in my own country. Why should I give up that right? That argument is like KSA declaring a Muslim conquest on Spain and telling them there are other European countries for you to move. This was ours and we want it back. Now go to France and leave us be.

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