“It was an attack on all of us, on our common values of freedom, diversity and choice.” These powerful words spoken by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu on the tragedy in Orlando, Florida are a simple, profound representation of the deep and unambiguous understanding Israel has for any and all victims of terror, and especially for those victims targeted for their specific identity. This is something Jews understand on an intrinsic, existential basis, and Israel is well recognized as a touchstone of democracy. Netanyahu’s position on Orlando is completely unsurprising, and welcomed. What is worth note, is to witness the leader of a Middle Eastern nation share a passionate, compassionate statement of solidarity with the United States.
Not far from Israel, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan reached out to President Obama to express his sorrow and condolences for the victims of terror. "In these hard moments, I share your grief and on behalf of Azerbaijani people and on my own behalf, I express deep condolences to you, the families and friends of those killed and to the whole American people, and wish speedy recovery to those injured," said President Aliyev.
Azerbaijan is also a beacon of stability and harmony in a sea of instability, similar to the Jewish State. As a majority-Muslim secular democracy, it is celebrated for high-minded pluralism balanced with complicated security issues. In Azerbaijan’s case, that’s a long list of issues that come with bordering Iran, Russia, and Armenia. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a regional economic leader, and while sharing longstanding ties with Israel and the U.S., has also built and maintained widespread relationships with a variety of nations across the globe, serving as a bridge between otherwise intense geopolitical distances.
Israel and Azerbaijan are long-term allies of the United States, and in that light, expressions of solidarity and sorrow for a U.S. tragedy is something we should expect from both leaders. That solidarity is more than a show of diplomacy; Israel and Azerbaijan know what terrorism feels like. It’s more close to home and a constant threat and reality in those regions than anything we face in the United States. Israel and Azerbaijan are arguably better at preventing and managing terrorism, and both are subjected to intense criticism for how it is managed; despite the alternative and the effectiveness of their respective and collaborative security programs.
It would make sense for our leaders to more actively and consciously engage with the advanced experience our allies have with managing terror and extremism, and study from their examples. The United States, and the nearly 320 million people that call it home, deserve the kind of sophisticated defenses and protections our friends across the world have spent so much brain-power and time, and have endured many unfortunate experiences of violence and terror, in order to establish.
We should also consider how the U.S. reacts to the tragedies of those same allies in their times of crisis, whether a major terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, as happened only a week before Orlando, or the continued and inhumane violence waged by Armenia against Azerbaijani civilians. Do U.S. leaders take such unambiguous, righteous stands for the Israeli and Azerbaijani victims? When it comes to terrorism and violence against innocent people, is there really any room for ambivalence or passivity? If there is, we can be sure it has an impact on our own identity and our own experience and management of threats and terror.What happened in Orlando is horribly painful, and the words and actions of friends mean a lot in such times. Friendship stands out, in sharp contrast to an otherwise embroiled world, and intense tragedy reminds us of how comforting friends can be, and how scary it would be to endure something like a major act of terrorism without them. Our relationships offer profound opportunities to learn - both from the friends, and from the process by which we engage with their reality, separate from our own. The kind of friend we are speaks to the quality of our own individuality; true for people as for nations. Israel and Azerbaijan both share clear and compassionate solidarity with the United States and our experience with terror - a comfort that is both intimate and globally meaningful, and a demonstration of their value and quality as friends and as nations.