There are noble and urgent reasons to roll up our sleeves and try very hard to address the dynamics between Jews and Muslims, in the most general and also most individualistic of terms.
We need to cover all bases so that we can make positive changes in the troubled relationship before it gets worse. We must look at practical alternatives to the festering status quo. It is our responsibility as stewards of this world.
Jewish awareness of the secular majority-Muslim nation of Azerbaijan has increased over the past few years. Azerbaijan has had an incomparable relationship with the Jewish people for centuries, and the country’s 30,000 Jewish citizens are treated with honor and respect, reflecting Azerbaijan’s humane traditions and its praiseworthy record as a haven for Jews through the Holocaust and into our day.
The friendship between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of Israel stands in sharp contrast to the geopolitical and sectarian tensions that plague so much of the world.
It’s no secret that Azerbaijan and Israel share a strategic alliance, with a particular emphasis on energy and defense technology. A telling example of the deep level of trust between the two countries is that Israeli citizens, per presidential decree, can have a visa issued at airports in Azerbaijan upon arrival, making Israel one of the few countries in the world with that kind of exemption.
Israel was one of the first nations to formally recognize the sovereign Republic of Azerbaijan in 1991, just a few months after it restored its independence from the Soviet Union. Israel was also one of the first countries to open an embassy in Azerbaijan.
Cooperation between the Jewish state and the majority-Muslim secular democracy has strengthened and expanded in recent years, not only in the realm of security but also and increasingly in the areas of energy, agriculture, telecommunications, cyber technology, construction, irrigation, medicine, and tourism. These connections started in the 1990s, and within a decade Israel had become Azerbaijan’s fifth-leading trade partner in the world.
Today, approximately 50 percent of the oil used in Israel comes from Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan continues to make multi-billion dollar investments in Israeli defense technologies.
The relationship goes beyond trade and is based on core values and plays out in social life and politics. I recall reading a statement made by Imam Malik, the head of one of Azerbaijan’s largest mosques, on the issue of Jews ascending the Temple Mount. He said “There is nothing in Islamic law to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount and the one who claims otherwise is considered a heretic in Islam who transforms the sanctity of the place for political purposes.”
Imagine if the rest of the Muslim world thought about the Temple Mount, and a myriad of other related issues, in a similar way.
Critics note that Azerbaijan has yet to open an embassy in Israel, or they say that Azerbaijan’s location between Russia and Iran (along with its desire to maintain good neighborly relations with both of those regional powers) portends an unstable future for its relationship with Israel. However, regional experts and the hard evidence shine a different, and much more detailed, light on the story of the Azerbaijan-Israel friendship.
In 2009, Wikileaks revealed that the relationship has always been much closer than it appears. And Azerbaijan indeed faces immense pressure from the surrounding Muslim world. The country’s unique situation comes with definite risks and requires delicate management far beyond the scope of news coverage. These are factors that Israel, perhaps more than any other nation, can appreciate.
But the end game is unusually and refreshingly straightforward and promising. For the Republic of Azerbaijan, there is no reason not to collaborate with Israel, and there are plenty of immediate, long-term, and positive incentives that support the relationship. In the face of intense regional turmoil and dangerous threats to Israel and Jewish life around the globe, this friendship carries profound messages and meaning.
Just imagine what could happen if other majority-Muslim nations followed Azerbaijan’s direction, and success, when it comes to relations with Israel and the Jewish people.Rabbi Simchah Aaron Green