Israel Votes Down Recognition of Yazidi Genocide, Citing UN

The Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority in Iraq and Syria, became subject to persecution by ISIS when it captured territory where the group lives

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Yazidis fleeing from ISIS, 2014.
Yazidis fleeing from ISIS toward the Syrian border, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The Knesset voted down a bill on Wednesday that would have recognized that the Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority with a presence in Iraq and Syria and the surrounding region, had been victims of genocide.

Fifty-eight Knesset members voted against the bill, which was sponsored by Zionist Union Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova, while 38 voted in favor. In addition to conferring official Israeli recognition that the Yazidis had been victims of genocide, the legislation would have established a memorial day to the Yazidis and would have mandated that their case be made part of the country's school curriculums.

The Yazidis, a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of ancient Middle Eastern religions, are regarded by ISIS as devil-worshippers. Thousands of women and girls of the Yazidi faith were abducted, tortured and sexually abused by ISIS after it invaded northwest Iraq in 2014. 

In the Knesset debate on the legislation, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the government would not support the bill as long as the United Nations hasn't recognized the genocide. She noted the diplomatic implications that passage of the bill could have, "despite the fact that there is no dispute in principle that this involves a historical event that needs to be recognized." The matter, she said, should be studied in depth.

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For her part, Svetlova, the bill's sponsor, called the Yazidis a small group of people who are isolated and powerless and defenseless. "Even today, when we know that a portion of their people is still in captivity, why not recognize this genocide?" And she added: "Our country, the State of Israel, was established on the foundations of the ashes of the Holocaust, but what about the holocaust of other people?"

Knesset member Ksenia SvetlovaCredit: Moti Milrod

In August, a United Nations investigative team began collecting evidence of acts by ISIS that may be war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. UN experts had warned in June 2016 that the ISIS was committing genocide against the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq to destroy the minority religious community through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes. ISIS, which until last year controlled large areas in Syria and Iraq, has since been driven into the desert by successive defeats in offensives by international allies in both countries. The UN investigative team’s mission does not include Syria.