In Berkeley, community leaders stand up for Yazidi people

Bay Area Jewish community leaders joined clergy from other faiths this week at a press conference supporting the Yazidi people, an Iraqi religious minority under genocidal threat from ISIS. The April 15 event took place at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley.

Sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County and supported by religious groups across the board, the gathering included a speech from Gulie Khalaf, an Iraqi-born Yazidi currently living in Lincoln, Nebraska, who chairs the board of Yezidis International. She discussed the mounting humanitarian crisis her people face in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Kurdistan.

Last month, United Nations human rights investigators leveled accusations of genocide and war crimes against the Islamic State, or ISIS, citing evidence its fighters had sought to wipe out the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq. One U.N. investigator quoted in the New York Times said that ISIS fighters have rounded up Yazidi men over the age of 14, led them to ditches and executed them — even if they agreed to convert.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis have been driven from their homes since ISIS began conquering areas of Syria and northern Iraq, according to reports, and hundreds of girls and women have been sold into sex slavery.

“The world can provide humanitarian relief,” said Rabbi Pamela Frydman, who helped organize this week’s event, titled “Genocide Before Our Eyes.” “There’s a general danger of starvation and disease in the [refugee] camps. The need for food, clean water, medicine and hygiene supplies is urgent and must be responded to. Many are stepping up, but it’s not enough.”

The press conference involved at least 25 religious and community leaders and was attended by Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i and other faith group representatives, as well as the leaders of many interfaith councils. The Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the Jewish Community Relations Council also lent their support.

Attendees were urged to take action by getting people to sign a petition urging negotiations for the release of more Yazidi held by ISIS. — j. staff