Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris in Azerbaijan, Jan 18, 2022.

In a recent YouTube video clip, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris stated in Baku airport: “Azerbaijan is a fascinating country in so many ways. For our work at the AJC, it is extremely important too. Azerbaijan is in the South Caucuses. To the north, Russia. To the south, a long border with Iran. To the east, the energy-rich Caspian Sea. To the west, Armenia and Georgia. It is a vitally important part of the world. For us, Azerbaijan is important regionally and globally.”

Harris noted that Azerbaijan is home to a Jewish community that dates back 2,500 years: “There have been very few incidents of antisemitism throughout the country’s history (Since the Soviets lost control over the country, there have been no recorded incidents of antisemitism, and synagogues in Azerbaijan leave their doors unlocked at night – RA). I have met many Azerbaijani Jews over the year, both in Baku and in Israel, and they share a pride in their connection to Azerbaijan, a recognition that they have lived freely and in brotherhood with other residents of this country. Azerbaijan is also important to the State of Israel. There are diplomatic relations and strong ties in just about every sphere.”

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According to Harris, “what is striking about this visit, in particular, is how many people have expressed their respect for Israel. We met with government officials. I had the opportunity to speak at one of the top universities and to speak with students. Everyone, I got the sense that Israel is our friend and we welcome you in that spirit of friendship. We want to underscore the importance of this country because of its friendship with the State of Israel and its respect for religious tolerance. This is why I visit Azerbaijan 13 times and I hope there will be more in the future.”

President Ilham Aliyev personally welcomed Harris to Azerbaijan. According to the presidential office, “The historically tolerant environment in Azerbaijan was pointed out at the meeting. The fact that representatives of all nations and religions including the Jewish community live in a friendly and peaceful atmosphere as a family and are surrounded by state care in Azerbaijan and the creation of comprehensive conditions for them at the state level was praised, describing this as a role model for the world.”

Israeli political analyst Arye Gut noted that “respect and tolerance for minorities have played an important role in Azerbaijan from the beginning of the Silk Road to the present. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, during the reign of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, women were granted voting rights.”

According to Gut, “This government also included representative of minority groups, which is an indicator of tolerance in this state. During this period and subsequent years, representatives of the Jewish people along with other minorities including Armenians were part of the government of Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijanis never betrayed the Jews, just as the Jews never betrayed the Azerbaijanis. During the Second World War, Azerbaijan saved 50,000 European Jews from the Holocaust.”

Anatoliy Rafailov, a deputy of the Milli Majlis (National Assembly), said during the meeting that Azerbaijani Jews were lucky their country didn’t have antisemitism, seeing as a jihadist had only days earlier stormed a synagogue in Texas, holding Jews hostage: “On behalf of the Jewish community of Azerbaijan, we express gratitude to David Harris for supporting the just cause of restoring Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Israel has always respected the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”

Recently, STMEGI, a Jewish organization headed by God Nisanov, German Zakharyayev, and Zarakh Iliev, provided significant assistance to Azerbaijani families who had lost relatives during the Second Karabakh War. According to MP Rafailov, “Israel and world Jewry remember well the centuries-old peaceful existence of the Jewish community on Azerbaijani soil.”

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Rachel Avraham is the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel’s Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”