WASHINGTON – The Croatian, Cypriot and Azerbaijani ambassadors gathered in a synagogue to read the Haggada and eat gefilte fish.
No, this isn’t a beginning of a joke, rather it was the annual ambassadors’ Seder, organized by AJC, which took place Thursday night at Washington Hebrew Congregation. Diplomats from 60 countries came to experience a full Seder, including a detailed explanation about Passover’s traditions.
A Yemeni diplomat, who attended the event and requested anonymity because his country has no diplomatic relations with Israel, told reporters about the current ties the two states share.
“We believe that Yemen and Israel are facing one threat, which is extremists in Iran,” he said. “These people, when they talk about wiping off Israel from the map or interfering in our country and using our country as a battlefield or Yemeni blood as a way to send messages – that’s quite arrogant. I’m not talking about the Iranian people, because they’re a great civilization. I’m talking about the extremist Iranian regime.”
In the past few months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made an effort to make public the secret relations Israel has with Arab countries, such as Oman. When asked by The Jerusalem Post if Yemen would soon establish relations with Israel, the diplomat responded that any normalization with the Arab world should start from solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think that the issue is a political issue, which is the Arab initiative,” he told the Post. “If you ask any Arab from any Arab government, they will tell you – ‘we want the Arab initiative and the two-state solution.’ If that’s resolved, I think it will open many doors, but I also believe we have to take steps from our side, in our country. We have a Jewish community also that although they have been discriminated against and they were living in a harsh atmosphere and circumstances, they insist on staying in Yemen.”
He added that he regularly listens to Israeli singers of Yemeni descent.
“There is a large Israeli community of Yemeni origin,” he said. “Those people are important to us. We think that those people have been mistreated in parts of Yemeni history by some racist rulers of the country. And we think the time has come that we have a healthy relationship with them. But of course, after the dispute between Israel and Palestine is resolved.”
Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov told the Post that he attended Seders many times in the past. When asked about his experience with gefilte fish, he joked: “I am not afraid of it. I lived in the Soviet Union,” and added that “Part of the diplomatic experience is that you have to be open and tolerant, and today is a day of tolerance and openness.”
But when asked if given the close ties Azerbaijan has with Israel, the government in Baku would move the embassy to Jerusalem any time soon, the ambassador said that it is not going to happen quickly.
“Honestly, I don’t think so, at this moment,” he said. “Azerbaijan is very committed to international law, to upholding principles of international law. We think that this issue is the one that needs to be a part of the comprehensive solution for the Middle East in general.”
Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation and the keynote speaker, asked the audience to help in raising awareness of the Yazidis’ situation.
“I couldn’t be happier to be here than anywhere else,” she said. “It is true that we’re thinking today about the Jewish community, about Passover and their suffering, but today I’m also reminded of my own people and their suffering, about years and years of oppression.”
She added that they are people who want to live with freedom and dignity, but unfortunately, Islamic State has taken almost everything from the Yazidi community.
“I have lost 19 girls from my family: Two of them escaped. Seventeen are still missing,” she said. “I want to thank AJC, for giving me the opportunity, because we will take any opportunity to talk about our people and their suffering. And I want you to go back home and tell that story over again to anyone you know and find out how you can help a religious minority group in Iraq that has suffered a genocide.”
Flint Prujean, first secretary at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, said the efforts of the people in his country to heal after the horrifying attack on two mosques last month is an issue that cannot be confronted alone.
“But the answers to them lie in a simple concept that is not bound by domestic borders, that isn’t based on ethnicity, power base or even forms of government,” he said. “The answer lies in our humanity, which is why it is so fitting to discuss such a theme at this ambassadors’ Seder – celebrating our freedom while recognizing the threats to it, coming together in companionship, diversity and respect for one another. Breaking matzah and drinking wine. Events like this help bring us closer together and disempower those who seek to divide us.”