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Jews, Palestinian Israelis, & Turkish Kurds have much in common

Credit: The Turbulent World

Diaspora Jews, Palestinian Israelis, and Turkish Kurds have more in common than meets the eye.

The similarities in how the three minority communities define themselves offer insights into what will make either a one- or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict viable.

To be sure, it’s hard to see, amid the Gaza carnage and Israel’s blinded and traumatized view of future relations with the Palestinians, how the two communities could live with each other or side by side.

Yet, neither has a choice. The alternative is continued violence, repression, and destruction that will only escalate.

What is clear from a comparison of Diaspora Jewish, Israeli Palestinian, and Turkish Kurdish attitudes is that respect for national, religious, and communal identity coupled with equal rights and economic opportunity are prerequisites for peaceful coexistence.

The validity of that maxim is evidenced by the fact that a majority of Israeli Palestinians and Turkish Kurds would remain resident in either Israel or Turkey, even if a Palestinian or Kurdish state were to be established in Israeli-occupied territory or carved out of Iraq, despite discrimination and the limiting or repression of expressions of their national identity.

Similarly, a majority of Diaspora Jews, despite rising antisemitism and irrespective of whether they support or oppose Israeli policies and the Gaza war, want a Jewish state to exist but have no intention of uprooting their lives and moving to Israel.

Acknowledging the parameters of Diaspora support for Israel, Israelis have long joked that “New York Jews will fight to the last Israeli.”

Opinion polls exploring identity among Palestinian Israelis and Turkish Kurds tell a similar story.

A yet-to-be-published survey by Rawest, a research and polling outfit based in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeastern province of Diyarbakir, found that only 22 percent of the country’s Kurds, who account for 20 percent of the population, favored breaking away from Turkey to create an independent Kurdish state.

Similarly, the survey, quoted in an email by Al-Monitor reporter Amberin Zaman, reported that only 9.7 per cent preferred exclusively Kurdish-language curricula in education as opposed to 44.1 per cent who advocated a bi-lingual Turkish and Kurdish language system.

A majority identified themselves primarily as Muslims, while 67.4 percent said their Kurdish identity was strong. Even so, only nine percent defined themselves as Kurdish nationalists.

Counterintuitively, an Israel Democracy Institute poll in November concluded that the number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who feel they are part of the State of Israel had risen dramatically since Hamas’ October 7 attack and Israel’s Gaza war.

Palestinians account for about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

In the poll, 70 percent of Palestinian Israelis said they had a sense of solidarity with Israel, a 20-year high, compared to 48 percent in a survey conducted six months earlier.

A separate survey conducted by The Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva concluded that 55 percent of Palestinian Israelis believed that a desire to live in peace or a feeling of shared destiny had prevented inter-communal violence from erupting since October as opposed to the violence during the 2021 Gaza war.

A third survey conducted by Hebrew University researchers days after the October attack showed that 66 percent of Palestinian Israelis supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Fifty percent said Hamas’ attack that primarily targeted civilians was “contrary to the values of Islam.”

Even so, amid widespread anti-Palestinian sentiment in Israel fuelled by the October 7 attack and the war, Israeli Palestinian optimism about the future dropped to a five-year low, with only 27 percent of those polled by the Israel Democracy Institute less or unconcerned about what lies ahead for them.

Sixty-two percent of Palestinian Israelis surveyed by Givat Haviva said the attack and the war had negatively impacted their sense of personal safety.

Just over 50 percent expressed pessimism about the prospects for coexistence between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. Even so, 49 percent said the October 7 attack had positively influenced their attitude toward Jews.

Seventy percent feared that anti-Palestinian manifestations would increase in the wake of October 7.

Asked by the Israel Democracy Institute if, given an alternative Western citizenship, they would leave Israel, 59 percent of Israeli Palestinians surveyed said they would stay.

Commenting on various polls, Middle East researcher Rachel Friedman noted that Palestinian Israelis were among the civilians Hamas killed on October 7.

Ms. Friedman’s conclusion says much about lessons to be learned from minority attitudes, whether Diaspora Jewish, Palestinian Israeli, or Turkish Kurdish, particularly for the future of Jewish-Palestinian relations.

“On October 7, 2023, Hamas viewed their victims’ religion and ethnicity as secondary to their nationality. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs would be wise to do the same,” Ms. Friedman said.

The relevance of Ms. Friedman’s conclusion is highlighted by the acceleration of differences among Diaspora Jews, a community polarised by the Hamas attack and the Gaza war.

Like Palestinian Israelis, Jews feel less secure. Sixty-three percent of American Jews said their place in American society had become less secure, a 22 percent increase compared to a year earlier, according to a survey commissioned by the American Jewish Committee.

Forty-six percent said they took precautions or avoided posting content online, wearing clothing that would identify them as Jews, or going to certain places out of concern for their safety.

Even so, 62 percent of American Jews polled on behalf of the Jewish Federations of North America said they “sometimes find it hard to support actions taken by Israel or its government” and 45 percent expressed an unfavorable view of the Israeli government. Yet, 72 percent noted that “in general, Israel makes me proud to be Jewish.”

Increasingly ambivalent Diaspora Jewish attitudes towards Israeli policy and perceptions of how that might impact their safety is reflected in diminished Diaspora Jewish immigration to Israel and millennial Jewish responses to attempts by Israel and its supporters to depict pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses as antisemitic.

Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry reported in December that 2,662 people had immigrated since October 7, the vast majority from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Only 218 came from the United States and 116 from France, many of whom had initiated the immigration process before October 7.

Overall, the figure was a far cry from the 16,400 immigrants who arrived in the same period in 2022, the bulk of whom were people escaping the war in Ukraine.

Asked in the American Jewish Committee survey whether the “actions of the state of Israel have made my life as an American Jew more difficult,” 58 percent said the phrase did not describe their experience.

Questioned whether “the anti-Israel climate, on campus or elsewhere, has forced me to hide my Jewish identity,” 62.2 percent said this too did not describe their experience, and 10.9 percent said they didn’t think there is an anti-Israel climate.

The poll elicited similar results when it asked respondents whether “the anti-Israel climate, on campuses or elsewhere, has damaged my relationships with friends.”

Prominent American Jewish activist, Israel critic, and political scientist Peter Beinart noted that “for many decades, American Jews have built our political identity on a contradiction: Pursue equal citizenship here; defend group supremacy there. Now here and there are converging. In the years to come, we will have to choose.

Rather than prompting a majority of American and Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel, that choice could widen the emerging gap between Israel and many Diaspora Jews.

That in turn, would reinforce lessons offered by what Diaspora Jews, Palestinian Israelis, and Turkish Kurds have in common, according to the numerous opinion polls.

Those lessons have been lost in the fog of the Gaza war. Even worse, Israel and Hamas’ war conduct have thrown them in the trash bin.

Yet, they go to the core of any attempt to make an eventual ceasefire stick and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

About the Author
Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
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