Israel & Azerbaijan: The deeper meaning of Jewish-Muslim friendship

Every day, around the world, anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli stories and blogs attack the fabric of our society.

AN AZERBAIJAN state flag flutters in the wind on an oil platform in the Caspian Sea, east of Baku (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN AZERBAIJAN state flag flutters in the wind on an oil platform in the Caspian Sea, east of Baku
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, we painfully absorbed the news of the merciless bus bombing in Jerusalem. Attacks are happening not only in the streets, but across the global channels of information.
Every day, around the world, anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli stories and blogs attack the fabric of our society. They challenge our religion, our way of life, our families and our history.
It is a fact that the world still treats Israel differently, whether through media bias or outright hate-driven propaganda; we deal with the plague of reality vs. revisionism.
This is a major problem for the victims of terrorism – in part, because terrorism is difficult for the outside world to grasp. Yet this only compounds the risks for those around it, for whom reality is unavoidable and impossible to ignore. Supporters and citizens of Israel know this all too well, and unfortunately we are not alone.
From a rabbinic perspective, I look through these barriers to truth and delve into the complexity of what is actual, evidentiary and important. A promising source of direction comes from studying and understanding a great ally to Israel, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the only nation in the world bordering both Russia and Iran, perhaps the two most notorious sources of geopolitical conflict that exist today.
The secular majority-Muslim democracy is a safe and celebrated home to vibrant Christian and Jewish communities – similar to Israel, a home to people of many faiths. Sadly, Azerbaijan also shares Israel’s problem with invasions and terrorism.
It was only a few months after my recent visit to Azerbaijan that the country was attacked. Since early April, Russian-backed Armenian troops have been shelling soldiers and civilians in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region. Only last week, two Azerbaijani children were murdered by those Armenian troops, to join a growing list of civilian and military casualties.
A vital ally of the United States and a champion actor alongside NATO and the US in the global fight against extremism, this country of less than 10 million, 95% of whom are Muslims, is one of the strongest international allies of the State of Israel, cooperating with the Jewish State in matters of trade, security, military, intelligence and diplomatic coordination.
Leaders of government and international peace movements refer to the outsideof- the-box South Caucasus nation as a “model for peace.” Many are anxious to translate and share Azerbaijan’s precedent; proof that diverse ethnicities and religions can, in fact, live safely and securely within a majority-Muslim nation, and proof that a Muslim nation can serve as a key champion in the international peace movement.
My journey this past December was a mission to study and develop a greater understanding of what makes multifaith peace a strong and lasting reality in Azerbaijan, and how possible it is to capture and share that design for peace with other nations.
In the capital city of Baku, I met with Dr. Ali Hasanov, a key aide to Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev, for his advice on the viability of sharing the model of Azerbaijan’s success with multicultural tolerance and diplomacy elsewhere in the world, considering the impressive need for it. In our discussion, Dr. Hasanov suggested that peace advocates take a broad step back, and consider that many nations in need of peace are simultaneously immersed in urgent life-and-death challenges that must be addressed in order to preserve human life prior to initiating any rapid shifts toward stability.
This pragmatic approach mirrors what has yielded success for many countries in the developing world. According to Dr.
Hasanov, “the critical venture for those nations will be the unlearning of radical and toxic ideologies and sociopolitical paradigms that pose extreme limitations and are unfortunately revolving.”
Dr. Hasanov added, “Despite the tragic actions of outsiders, tolerance has been the blueprint for Azerbaijan’s development for centuries, and has totally become a strong part of our national, cultural identity.”
Cynical pundits occasionally try to minimize the relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel. However, a basic study reveals an overarching synergy that is factually undeniable, as both nations share a vision for progress, peace, and democracy, alongside significant trade programs in energy, intelligence, entertainment and tourism.
When I asked Dr. Hasanov if Azerbaijan wished to be less vocal about its friendship with Israel considering its geography and regional geopolitics, he responded with a confident and knowing smile: “No, no.
We make no effort to hide it. This is who we are”.
The risks Azerbaijan and Israel take as stand-alone democracies are compounded by the growing contrast with the extremism surrounding them, a threat that is expanding across the world every day, specifically at the borders of both nations. The violence is coupled with global propaganda efforts to discredit and disempower both nations, and to distance their supporters.
As both nations face a siege of violence today, they each stand a greater chance at survival and security together, and all the more so with the shared and passionate support of America behind them.
Azerbaijan and Israel should continue playing their roles in the world as proof that peace is possible between all people, and as agents of positive change for the most insecure and dangerous regions in the world.
The author is a rabbi.