US President Donald Trump shocked the entire civilized world on Wednesday, September 26, when he directly addressed a Kurdish TV reporter from Kurdistan TV, Rahim Rashidi, as “Mr. Kurd” . The exchange occurred during a press conference on sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It took a few short minutes for the liberal press, the self appointed chaperon of the current administration, to explode in condemnation and mockery. The consensus was quickly formed: “Mr. Kurd” was name calling, derogatory, offensive and unpolished. There was only one issue with this moral outrage: the Kurds loved it. Their celebration of these two words was as loud as it was unanimous. One could easily mistake that for the response to a successful independence bid by one of the Kurdish enclaves. That perplexing reaction confused many Westerners including a lot of high minded American Jews. Was the entire gevalt the result of bad manners and an insult lost in translation? Were “the barbarians” just not sophisticated enough to comprehend the stupidity of the worst president in the history of the republic? To many the question is rhetorical and the answer is clear. However, one need not look back far enough into Jewish past to appreciate the true simple meaning behind the apparent rudeness of “Mr. Kurd”.
Growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s was a pure Kafkaesque experience. The very word Jew and any of its derivatives were relegated to the corner of the Russian language left for derogatory terms (though thanks to the long history of Russia’s struggle with itself the company was large and boisterous). It could only be uttered in public as a synonym of a blatant military aggression or in the context of the West’s financial schemes against the first proletariat state. A few public displays commemorating atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews told a story of “Soviet Citizens”: not of Jews and without any Jewish symbols or Jewish dates. The unwritten rule of not mentioning Jews by name, not in newspapers, not on the radio, not on the TV, was observed more religiously and thoroughly than the commandment not to create images of the Almighty by religious Jews. So when a few Western leaders (such as former President Ronald Reagan) addressed us directly (and we would hear that via heavily jammed shortwave radio signals) we, the Soviet Jews, felt jubilant. Those rare moments generated ecstatic feelings akin to pure religious experience. Back then, Mr. Reagan, in particular, was assaulted by the liberal press for setting the Cold War on fire and for singling out Jews from among the citizens of a multinational state thus harming them even more. It is unlikely those actions hastened the demise of the Evil Empire, but one thing for certain: it made being Jewish in that “Paradise on Earth” a lot more hopeful and optimistic.
However, the Kurds’ situation is even more precarious. At least we, the Jews of Soviet Union, had our own country, far and unreachable as it was. The Kurds, on the other hand, the nation of more than forty million, don’t. This huge nation seems to be the last remaining stateless people divided and spread across many hostile artificially created states. Even the Albanians, the nation of 10 million, have two states. This homeless situation had its genesis in Great Britain and France artificially dividing the Middle East after the First World War. But that was the original sin. Since then this situation has been perpetuated by the dictatorial regimes of the region, the Cold War and the eternal love affair between the West and the status quo. It is difficult to blame Kurds for being so overjoyed when a leader of a superpower addresses them in their own name: not as Iraqis, Turks, Syrians or Iranians, but as Kurds. The other words of support offered by the president were less groundbreaking. President Trump talked about the sacrifices made by the Kurdish nation in the fight against ISIS and how brave the fighters they were. As if the nation of forty million needs to prove its worth to have an independent state. If that were the case one would have to suspect the Albanians have probably defeated the Nazis and sent one of their own to the moon. The Kurds have been the residents of the neighborhood for no less time than the other nations of the region and equally deserve the country of their own.
One can only hope the American Jews would feel the same pride and self respect were one of them addressed as Mr. Jew. The reflexive desire to hide and not be named would make most of them cringe at the idea of being addressed in that manner. To them to be called a Jew in public is never anything but an act of rabid anti-Semitism. At times it feels the good old Soviets had achieved their ultimate objective and convinced even Jews themselves in a criminal nature of their own name. Nevertheless, seeing a proud Mr. Kurd gives me hope a Mr. Jew is not just a history lore. I, for one, am Mr. Jew.