On Chanukah, enjoying the strong Israel-Azerbaijan relationship
"I was fortunate to be invited to the Chanukah party co-hosted by the country of Azerbaijan and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations. The party, whose theme was freedom and diversity, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on Wednesday evening, December 14" Mindy Stein wrotes in her article published in JewishLinkNJ.
Azerbaijan is a secular Muslim country that is strategically located, since it borders both Iran and Russia. Azerbaijan has developed a close relationship with Israel. It has purchased nearly five billion dollars’ worth of defense equipment from Israel and is Israel’s largest oil supplier.
My first encounter with Azerbaijan took place three years ago when its Ambassador Suleymanov came to the office of the Conference of Presidents to meet with us—a meeting that I attended as a representative of Emunah of America. The conference subsequently received an invitation to attend a reception in Washington, DC for the Republic Day of Azerbaijan, which took place in May 2013. I decided that it was important to show our support for a country that is so strategically situated and for a country that serves as a model of diversity and tolerance, and friendship with the United States and Israel. I traveled to Washington, DC to attend that reception, along with Gerald Platt and Ken Abramowitz, both of the American Friends of Likud. The room was filled with about 500 people including military personnel, Congressmen and people in Arab garb from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. As far as I knew, Gerry, Ken and I were the only Jews in the room. Ambassador Suleymanov greeted the three of us warmly, and when he addressed the crowd, he thanked everyone for coming, including “my Jewish friends.” Needless to say, we were very moved and happy that we made the trip to Washington!
Mindy Stein and Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov
In light of my earlier experience and the increasingly close relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel, I had no doubt that the right thing to do was to once again travel to Washington, DC last week to attend the Chanukah party. I decided to attend in order to support and encourage the warm relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel, which was one of the goals of Malcolm Hoenlein and the Conference of Presidents in co-hosting the party. When I spoke to the Ambassador and his wife, I told them that we pray that this warm relationship and mutual economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States and Israel will continue, and that Azerbaijan will continue to use their influence to help foster peace and further development in the region. I also attended to show my support for the conference itself, which was being criticized (unfairly in my opinion) by some of its own member organizations for holding the event in a Trump hotel. The Conference of Presidents asked Ambassador Suleymanov to rent a room for the Chanukah party that was situated near the White House, so that people who were attending the Chanukah party there could participate in both events. The only other stipulation the conference made was that the food be kosher. The Ambassador was the person who rented the room at the Trump Hotel. The Trump Hotel was used simply because it was the best practical solution.
At the Chanukah party, Malcolm Hoenlein presented commemorative menorahs to the ambassadors of 13 countries, including seven with Muslim majorities, as well as a representative of the PLO, to thank them for their assistance in helping put out last month’s devastating forest fires in Israel. I was shocked and pleased when I heard Mr. Hoenlein ask the present Chief of the PLO Delegation in Washington, DC, Maen Areikat, to come to the podium to accept his menorah. I took several pictures of him holding his menorah.
Mindy Stein and Maen Areikat, Chief of PLO Delegation in Washington, DC
After the speeches and photo-ops were finished, I took the opportunity to approach Mr. Areikat. I told him that hopefully the evening’s events were an important overture and sign that hopefully peace could eventually be achieved. He answered me by saying, “When your Prime Minister Netanyahu recognizes his immediate neighbors like he recognizes Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, there can be peace.” I responded that I know that there could be peace, if the Palestinians would just utter the sentence, “We recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Mr Areikat hesitated and said, “We can say that after an agreement is signed.” Oh, and I almost forgot—he told me that he liked my dress. We exchanged cards, and I intend to keep in touch with him to see if we can have any further dialogue.
The beauty and the essence of the evening can be gleaned from the speeches by Mr. Hoenlein, Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Suleymanov of Azerbaijan. I quote below a few excerpts from those speeches, which I recorded.
Malcom Hoenlein said, “We are indebted to the people who are here because there is no greater demonstration that all of the charges and all of the predictions of Israel’s isolation were answered when Israel faced the disaster of the fires. Countries came immediately... to demonstrate that there is a common humanity, just as Israel responds first and foremost wherever there is a tragedy, whether in Nepal, whether in Haiti. I stood on the Syrian border and saw young Israelis risking their lives in order to bring Syrian children for treatment for free... And who put their lives literally nightly at risk. This is really the test. We understand the political machinations. People have to say things and do things, but this is really the bottom line, that we have common aspirations; we have common hopes and anyone who cares about their children and grandchildren, about the future of the world, share in those hopes and aspirations. It is when we can use the common brain power and common resources to address issues, whether it is Iran, whether it is terrorism, that we can really make a significant difference in connection with the other people of the world, together with all the other nations of the world.”
Ambassador Suleymanov commented, “We stand and hope to be able to be a friend for Israel and a friend for the Jewish people among the Muslim nations. We hope to be able to find ways to work together. For us, we want to be able to help Jews and Palestinians find points for agreement, to come together to work together and ultimately we hope that that will help to resolve the long-standing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We want people to talk to each other.”
Ron Dermer noted, “Not only can we light candles together, we can douse flames together, and the fact that all of you represent countries who in our hour of need were there for us, is deeply appreciated.”
The meaningful words spoken by these three people last week are a lesson not only for the nations of the world but also for us Jews. The Conference of Presidents and especially Malcolm Hoenlein, who devotes day and night for the benefit of Jews everywhere, deserve kudos and our continued support for hosting this wonderful event and for all of their vital work on behalf of Klal Yisrael.
Mindy Stein is the honorary national president and chairman of the board of Emunah of America.
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