August 20, 2019

Ambassador from majority-Muslim Azerbaijan condemns anti-Semitism at U.N.

Photo from Destination Yisrael.

As we are about to bid a farewell to 2018, I reflect on what this year has meant for Jewish communities living around the world, especially in Europe and US. Sadly not much to cheer about. Attacks on Jews are on the rise in Europe, with frequent anti-Semitic episodes. Synagogues,  Jewish homes and cemeteries around the United States have been vandalized with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti. The Anti-Defamation League recorded a 57 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the US in 2017, compared to 2016 — including vandalism, assaults, bomb threats, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses. The culmination of this negative trend may have come from when a depraved man yelled “all Jews must die” and murdered 11 innocent Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Living in Azerbaijan, a tolerant majority-Muslim nation that has for centuries been a safe haven for Jews, both Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, and that has an inspirational model of peaceful Muslim-Jewish coexistence, it is simply unfathomable for us how anti-Semitism is taking the reign of certain segments of societies in Europe and US. As multifaith harmony and multiculturalism are not only state policies, but also key cultural values in Azerbaijan, our officials never shy away from promoting these values internationally and fighting against intolerance and hate, including anti-Semitism.

In this regard, I would like to share with you the remarks delivered by Ambassador Vaqif Sadiqov, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG). The remarks were made at the “Event on combating anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond” held on Dec. 17, 2018 at UNOG:

“Thank you for organizing this important event. We have to look straight into the facts: discrimination and intolerance based on religion, ethnicity and race are widespread worldwide and continue to grow. The international community needs to join efforts in resisting steadily increasing intolerance and violence, in particular, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and attempts to associate religions with terrorism and violent extremism.

Anti-Semitism is not a threat to Jewish communities alone. Where there is anti-Semitism, there are likely to be other discriminatory ideologies. Today, hatred also targets religious and ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees, including elderly people, women and children.

Open and frank discussions of such phenomena as anti-Semitism are necessary to prevent further spread of this evil. In doing so, it is necessary to separate dialogue on security matters, conflict and instability from the unfortunate instinct to create “us” and “them” categories, which oversimplifies the issues and often demonizes the “other”. Such an approach only plays into hands of ultra-nationalists and populists and seeds mistrust and suspicion in societies.

The history teaches us that intercultural and interreligious dialogue coupled with proper education is the most powerful tool in promoting tolerance, sustainable peace, stability and development, with no alternative available around.

In Azerbaijan, we attach primary importance to the promotion of such a dialogue, at all levels or our society. Multiculturalism and tolerance based on the principle of “unity in diversity” is a longstanding tradition in my country that strengthens and consolidates our society and contributes to ethnic and religious pluralism.

The Jewish community is one of the most ancient ethnic groups in Azerbaijan, with its history ranging for about 2,500 years. The town of Krasnaya Sloboda in the north of Azerbaijan is the second largest place of compact residence of Jews abroad after Israel itself. At present, five Jewish communities function in Azerbaijan, with eight synagogues open to believers, of which two were built with the government’s funding. The largest Jewish school in the South Caucasus operates in Baku.

The Jewish community played an important role in the development of political, economic, cultural life of Azerbaijan. This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, first-ever democratic Republic in the Muslim Orient. There were four Jewish ministers in the government of the first Azerbaijani republic. In the modern period, the most prominent representatives of the Jewish community from Azerbaijan have been famous American pianist Bella Davidovich, 1962 Nobel prize winner in physics prof. Lev Landau, world-renowned musician and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, to name just a few.

Thus, UN Member States which have the primary responsibility to protect its citizen’s human rights and address the root causes of intolerance, need to do more, together with the UN institutions, to disseminate the culture of zero tolerance to anti-Semitism and other similar threats.”