Five hundred people defied ISIS threats on Monday to attend a heavily-secured screening of a film about Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
The film “Peshmerga” was presented by its director, the French-Jewish philosopher and activist Bernard-Henri Lévy. A strong supporter of Kurdish statehood, Lévy flew to the US from Kurdistan just before the Iraqi government closed Kurdish air space in retaliation for the September 25 independence referendum.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Lévy as saying at the event that he “had never seen anything like this anywhere in the Middle East — except Israel.” He described the Kurds as “a minority surrounded, besieged by 200 million people and hostility. And you can’t compare their situation to Israel, it’s different, but there are similarities and they feel those similarities.”
He called the potential emergence of a Kurdish state as “a triumph for moderate Islam. For women’s equality and for the values that many people in the West, and Jews especially, share with Kurds.”
Israel is the only country that has endorsed Kurdish statehood thus far. Kurdish independence has been virulently opposed by many countries, especially Iran and Turkey, which have large Kurdish minorities.
Artist Ron Agam, who attended Monday’s event, told The Algemeiner there was “an enormous possibility of positive change in one of the most volatile regions of the world. And the hope for independence of the Kurdish people will possibly change the future of this region in a good way.”
Lévy, Agam continued, related the failure of the West to support Kurdish statehood to “the failures and lack of courage of Western democracies throughout the 20th century like the Spanish Civil War, like Munich, like the fact that they let Stalin occupy Eastern Europe. They are decisions that, at the right time, could have been different than the ones the West adopted. The West is always late in realizing that they made major mistakes in their political and diplomatic pronouncements.”
The Kurds, he added, are “one country, one people, that have attachment to democratic values in the middle of a Muslim world which is upside down, and they are showing everything that we appreciate in terms of democratic values and ways of life.”
The event took place under massive security due to threats against it reportedly heard on ISIS audio recordings. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Agam said of the safety measures taken in response to the threats, “I have never seen anything like it short of some major head of state at the UN. There were maybe more than 200 security personnel. They were all over. The security was unprecedented.” Nonetheless, he added, the threats “just added to the gravitas of what was happening there.”
The day after the event, Lévy said, “Last night at the Museum of Jewish Heritage was very special. Special because the New York Jewish community came out to support their Kurdish friends, despite serious threats from ISIS, and special because there was a sense of profound mutual respect.”
“The idea that the Kurds, who share our democratic values, are nearing the fulfilment of their dream of statehood, reminds me of Israel in 1948,” he continued. “And as with Israel at this critical time, besieged with enemies, Jews everywhere must stand in solidarity with the Kurds. This evening marked this bond of brotherhood which must continue to deepen.”
Watch a video of an excerpt of Lévy’s remarks at Monday’s film screening below: