Unlikely Allies

Ambassador Elin Suleymanov says Azerbaijan can serve as a model for Jewish-Muslim relations. (Courtesy of the Fletcher School/John Davis Photography)

Ambassador Elin Suleymanov says Azerbaijan can serve as a model for Jewish-Muslim relations. (Courtesy of the Fletcher School/John Davis Photography)

“Azerbaijan is a friend of the Jewish people, of the Israeli people and of the American people,” said Elin Suleymanov, the Republic of Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States. “This is not just a coincidence. It is a conscious decision by the government of Azerbaijan and the people of Azerbaijan.”

That was the message that Suleymanov reiterated more than a handful of times during a meeting this summer in his office in Washington, D.C. — a meeting that took place in armchairs and included hot tea and sweets native to Azerbaijan, which is pronounced Az-er-bu-jan and is located in the Caucasus Mountains west of the Caspian Sea, south of Russia and north of Iran.

“Azerbaijan is located at a crossroads of cultures,” said the ambassador, as he reviewed his nation’s deep history, which is both fairly old and fairly new at the same time.

The Azerbaijan Democratic Rep-ublic (ADR) was established in 1918 as the first secular Muslim-majority country built on the principles of a Western-style democracy with a constitution that granted equal rights to all citizens, including voting rights for women.

“Everyone was allowed to work and be a part of the society,” said Suleymanov. “This was before even the United States.”

ADR, however, existed for only 23 months, as it was invaded and incorporated into the Soviet Union by the Red Army under the name Azerbaijan SSR. On the verge of the Soviet Union’s collapse, ethnic strife in Nagorno-Karabakh and Moscow’s indifference to the conflict resulted in calls for independence and secession, which culminated in Black January. Subsequently, ADR’s flag was restored as the state flag, and, following that, the modern Republic of Azerbaijan emerged as a successor to Azerbaijan SSR on Oct. 18, 1991.

Throughout its history, the people of Azerbaijan have remained open, and that includes not only to women and the West, but also to the Jews.

Suleymanov said there were always Jews who served in parliament and that one of the country’s first ministers of health was a Jew. Suleymanov grew up going to school with Jewish children, was educated by Jewish teachers and had a Jewish doctor.

According to Suleymanov, the Jewish population of Azerbaijan dates back 2,500 years.

“It is not like they live in our country — I don’t know who lives in whose country. There is a long history,” he said.

The story goes that the Azerbaijani Jews, referred to as the “Mountain Jews,” arrived in the area after the exodus from Israel. They passed through Persia, where they picked up the Farsi-based language they still speak, and eventually settled in the Caucasus Mountains.

The Circle of Friendship: Azerbaijan and Israel

Whether they were spoken by the great Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu or Machiavelli or even fabled Godfather Michael Corleone, the words “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” offer great advice. But, seemingly, they have been ignored by the United States, which excels at taking its allies for granted and creating needy and desperate relationships in the eyes of its enemies.

One such case in point is Azerbaijan, a robust, secular, majority Muslim, emerging democracy and a trusted and valued ally that is showing great allegiance to Israel and to the United States. This, while simultaneously driving Mullahs and extremists throughout the world crazy (evidenced by the constant stream of vehemently angry rhetoric emanating from Tehran and elsewhere)  by embracing Western culture and ideas.

Now Israel’s closest ally in the Eurasia and, by extension, the Middle East, Azerbaijan is thriving by proving the world wrong about its perception of Muslim culture and body politic.

While the Middle East burns, American politicians seem to be blind to the bigger picture: It is not the gift of American bombs and warplanes to warring factions that will create a safer world, but it is the spread of Western culture, trade and ideals.

While President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin level expressions of distaste at one another, and while Obama meets with the Chinese as they blatantly spy and steal our biggest secrets, nations such as Israel and Azerbaijan suffer from conspicuous neglect.

Perhaps they have become the two guests at a party who suddenly find themselves with no one else to talk to and thus forge a friendship … and a very good one indeed.

One trip by the American president to Azerbaijan would speak volumes about that country’s policy and its support of Israel, the U.S. and Europe.

Even as America seemingly plays into the hands of the Iranians by allowing their stalling tactics to remain intact as they rush to finish a nuclear weapon, Azerbaijan remains a friend and ally of the U.S., Europe and Israel.

Even as America stands by as Iran threatens the very existence of Israel and the West,
Azerbaijan retains its policies of freedom and tolerance toward all relations and ethnicities.

As America sends more weapons to enable warring factions that will all prove disastrous for peace processes, Azerbaijan and Israel remain partners in trade and support.

However important the friendship of these two nations, it is the high profile presence of a major world power that can call attention to the better side of our natures.

More than ever it is crucial that all nations who respect tolerance, integrity and the dignity of the human spirit to remain diligent in their efforts to grow and prosper while helping one another.

Azerbaijan’s recent hosting of Jennifer Lopez singing and dancing in front of an adoring Azeri Muslim audience is proof there is much common ground. Azerbaijan’s trade and diplomatic relations with Israel is proof countries can work together for the greater good, despite the Mullahs seething over Azerbaijan’s Western proclivities.

In Azerbaijan, they respect and educate women, men, Jews, Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, all of whom can be elected members of its parliament and serve in high-ranking government and business roles.

The wonder of the human condition is that, after all is said and done, it is our sameness that draws us together, the common need in us all to be respected and admired as individuals.

Perhaps the U.S. should more closely examine the relationship between Azerbaijan, Israel and the West. The friendship that exists between Azerbaijan and Israel is a great place to begin looking for positive signs — in the present and for the future.

Also read, “Unlikely Allies.”

Norma Zager is a freelance journalist and columnist who teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.

Israel Calls Up Reservists, Deploys Missile Defenses Against Syria

Israel ordered a small-scale mobilization of reservists on Wednesday and strengthened its missile defenses as precautions against possible Syrian attack should Western powers carry out threatened strikes on Syria.

But an Israeli official briefed on a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet said the Jewish state believed the probability of it be targeted by Syria, its northern neighbor and long-time foe, was low.

“Following a security assessment held today, there is no reason for a change to normal routines,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We are, in parallel, preparing for any scenario.” CONTINUE >>

Rockets Fired From Lebanon Into Northern Israel

 Sirens were heard thought the Galilee this afternoon, as three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Northern Israel in the Nahariya area. Two rockets fell in open unpopulated areas; one rocket was intercepted by the “Iron Dome” anti-rocket system. No injuries or damage were reported. A few civilians suffering from shock were admitted to hospitals.

Reports from Lebanon indicate that the IAF has already retaliated.

Civilians in the north were instructed to stay close to their designated shielded areas.

MDA has elevated its level of alertness to the highest level.

The Haifa airport has been shut down by the IDF. Events scheduled for this evening in the north have already been cancelled.

No terrorist organization has taken responsibility yet. Hezbollah is currently heavily engaged in the civil war in Syria, and so it is less likely that they are looking to initiate another front against Israel. Palestinian terrorists groups have rocket capabilities, and it is possible they are trying to draw Israel into the regional turmoil.


Palestinian Hacker Posts On Marc Zuckerberg’s Facebook Wall

A Palestinian hacker posted a message on Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg’s wall to show there is a bug in the social network’s security settings.

Khalil Shreateh of Hebron posted information about the bug on Zuckerberg’s wall late last week following unsuccessful attempts to report the bug to Facebook security. The bug allowed Shreateh to post on the walls of other members despite security settings.

“Sorry for breaking your privacy … I had no other choice … after all the reports I sent to Facebook team,” Shreateh wrote on Zuckerberg’s wall.

Facebook security had denied that the flaw was a bug.

Shreateh, who is unemployed, had hoped to win a $500 reward paid out to hackers who discover bugs on Facebook. Instead, his Facebook account was frozen, since he violated Facebook’s terms of service by posting illegally on Zuckerberg’s page. His account has since been reinstated.

Zuckerberg has 18 million friends on his Facebook page


Israel Warns On High Holidays Travel

The Israeli government has advised Israelis and all Jews to avoid travel to several countries, including Egypt and Turkey, during the High Holidays, a popular time for leisure travel.

An advisory from the Prime Minister Office’s counterterrorism bureau warned that terrorists and terror groups such as al-Qaida might try to attack Jewish and Israeli targets during the holidays and also on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the al-Qaida attack on New York’s World Trade Center.

The warning stressed that Iran is still planning to avenge the death of Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bombing attack in Damascus in 2008, as well as the deaths of several of its nuclear scientists. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in these incidents.

Israeli businessmen and ex-government officials are considered prime targets for kidnapping or killing, according to the bureau.

The bureau called on Israelis and Jews to avoid travel to Egypt and Jordan, and called on any Israelis now in the Sinai Peninsula to leave immediately. Israelis also were told to avoid travel to Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Kenya.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have visited Turkey during August, despite the threat, according to reports.

The bureau also advises Israelis and Jews to leave Afghanistan, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Djibouti, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Togo and Tunisia, and not to travel to Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and the UAE.

The travel warnings are not binding.


Abbas: Final-Status Issues Discussed At First Round Of Peace Talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel and the Palestinians discussed all the final-status issues in the first session of peace talks held in Jerusalem.

Abbas made his comments Aug. 15 following a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Ramallah, The Jerusalem Post reported. The first round of talks was held the previous day in Jerusalem under a veil of secrecy.

Abbas said he hoped the talks would be concluded within six to nine months. Final-status issues are understood to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security and prisoners.

“It’s premature to say whether we have or haven’t achieved something,” Abbas said. “We hope that the coming days would bring us answers that we could present to all.”

Ban, who traveled to Israel last Friday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, said in Ramallah that he hoped Israel would “create the appropriate atmosphere by halting settlements which we and the world consider illegitimate.”

He also said the Palestinians have “sincere intentions.”

But Netanyahu told Ban that the root of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians “doesn’t have to do with the settlements,” the Post reported. “That’s an issue that has to be resolved, but this is not the reason that we have a continual conflict.

“The conflict preceded the establishment of a single settlement by half a century, and when we rooted out all the settlements in Gaza, the attacks continued because of this basic opposition to the Jewish state.”


Polio Inoculation Campaign Starts For Israeli Children

 Israel launched a nationwide campaign to inoculate children aged 9 and under with the weakened, live form of the polio virus.

More than 50,000 Israeli children living in southern Israel have been inoculated with the live virus in the past two weeks. The three-month campaign now is being spread to central and northern Israel.

The campaign is in response to the discovery in May of the polio virus in wastewater in Israel’s South that reportedly had been there since February. The virus was found about a month ago in wastewater in central Israel.

The children already have been inoculated against polio in their regular childhood vaccinations.

The purpose of the extra vaccine is to pass the weakened virus to adults with whom the children come into contact who may not previously have been vaccinated.

Across Israel, the vaccination rate against polio is 94 percent, according to the World Health Organization, which is supporting the vaccination campaign and whose representatives reportedly called it “necessary.”

It is believed the virus was brought to Israel from Egypt; polio was discovered in sewage in Egypt in December. The same virus also is prevalent in Pakistan.

Israel experienced its last case of polio in 1988.


17 Yemeni Jews Secretly Airlifted To Israel

 Seventeen Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in a covert operation.


Photo credit: Moshuk brin

Photo credit: Moshuk brin

Four of the Jews were flown directly from Yemen to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday, Haaretz reported. The rest were taken clandestinely from Buenos Aires after being smuggled to the Argentinian capital by a group of Satmar hasidim in August 2011, living in the Satmar community there. The Satmars have been involved in smuggling Jews out of Yemen for several years, according to Haaretz.

Several of the Yemenis reunited with family members in Israel.

The operation — a coordinated effort among the Jewish Agency and the Israeli ministries for the interior, foreign affairs and immigration absorption — was prompted by growing concern for the safety of the Jews in Yemen, according to the Jewish Agency. Anti-Semitic violence has been a growing problem since the 2011 ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The airlift brings to 45 the number of Yemeni Jews who have been brought to Israel this year and 151 since 2009.

Fewer than 90 Jews remain in Yemen, with about half of them living in a guarded structure in the capital, Sa’ana, Haaretz reported.

The 17 Yemeni Jews will be housed in Jewish Agency immigration absorption centers in southern Israel.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.


Sharansky To Reveal Full Western Wall Plan In Two Weeks

 Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky is expected to release his full plan for a compromise among religious groups at the Western Wall in two weeks.

Sharansky, according to Haaretz, aims to release the plan before the end of August. Upon announcing the release plans, he said “if we have an agreement on a solution for the future, that can help bring us closer to a compromise in the interim.”

Under Sharansky’s plan, first reported in April, an existing egalitarian section of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and a unified entrance would be built leading to the wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections. Robinson’s Arch would be open at all times — now it is open for a few hours per day.

The expanded section for egalitarian prayer would be run by a joint commission of the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and representatives of world Jewry. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the current Western Wall Plaza, would continue to run the traditional section.

Protests over the high-profile arrests of female worshipers at the holy site led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last year to tap Sharansky to formulate a compromise solution.

The months since Sharansky introduced the plan have seen increased haredi Orthodox protests of Women of the Wall, a group that organizes a women’s service at the wall at the beginning of each Jewish month.