What made you write the article about Azerbaijan “One Muslim Nation’s Brave Support of Israel”?
I decided to write the article because of my familiarity with Azerbaijan and its determination for independence and democracy. My goal was to emphasize that although the extremist countries and factions are always played up in the media, moderate Muslims and nations do exist and are thriving. I have also always been taken by Azerbaijan’s strengthening friendship with Israel, although so many nations have consistently turned their backs on the Jewish State, they remain candid and open about their burgeoning relationship with Israel. Muslims and Jews working together, being exposed to one another's customs and way of life as part of the global community are a wonderful example of how peace comes about, how hatred is eradicated and old notions and blood libels uprooted.
What is the future of Israeli-Azeri relations?
I am optimistic that Azerbaijan and Israel will continue to forge a strong friendship based on mutual economic and political interests. Trade has grown between the two countries and Azerbaijan’s policy of tolerance toward the Jewish people and Israel is a welcome and important component of this relationship. At the same time, Israel has much to contribute, in so many fields - from agriculture to medicine to technology.
Time and again Azerbaijan has stood up to pressure from Iran and others, and displayed its backbone and integrity. It has stood for Israel even when it was an unpopular stance.
Azerbaijan is very 21st century in its attraction as a moderate Muslim nation. Although pressures on Azerbaijan are dangerously escalating in the area, especially in light of current events, opening an Azeri embassy in Israel is a symbolic yet valuable gesture. As one Azeri diplomat told me, and I concur, an embassy is important on a diplomatic level, but it is what Azerbaijan and Israel do in “less symbolic” areas that is truly important. The pressure from Iran will continue to grow, as will the pressure from Turkey that has undergone a radicalization. I am hopeful and optimistic Azerbaijan will remain strong and resist these negative efforts. I do hear Azeri officials state clearly that they will stand firm against this interference and I must take them at their word.
Countries like Azerbaijan and Israel have a mutual desire to remain free and independent in the midst of this gathering storm of extremism. Perhaps their friendship circle will expand and inspire other nations to stand up for their freedoms as well. It is important to note that theirs is not merely a trade relationship but a friendship between a Muslim nation and the Jewish State.
That is why it is so important they mutually support and strengthen their alliance. To set an example for the world that harmony and peace between cultures and religions is not just a dream, but is already a functioning and positive reality.
Israel also gains greatly through trade with Azerbaijan, so both mutually benefit and it is a win-win for everyone. As this agenda strengthens, so will the fact that other countries can resist neighbouring “bully” states and do what is good for their own nation, even under the extreme pressures Azerbaijan experiences.
Today, there is not a single embassy in Israel's capital. Jerusalem is the holiest place in the world for Jews and the focus of extreme world attention. Azerbaijan has shown great strength in the past and myself, and many others, hope they will continue to lead by example and move forward to create an embassy in Jerusalem.
One of the comments on your article was that “the Azeris seem to be taking the place of Turkey as a friend of Israel”. Do you agree with that?
I do not see Azerbaijan replacing Turkey as Israel’s ally. I believe the relationship stands on its own merits. I do, however, see the friendship as an important example to other Muslim nations. There are great benefits in embracing Israeli advances in science, medicine and technology, and forging strong partnerships for peace is a positive for any country.
Do you believe that Turkish-Israeli relations will improve soon?
I do believe that if Turkey can resist the extremists within its own borders and outside interference, it will ultimately return to normalcy and that will include friendships with its neighbours and long-time friends. Somehow, I personally sense a bit of attention-seeking behaviour in Turkey’s actions toward Israel. Almost like a kid who wants to be part of a crowd in high school. The Turkish people will have to ultimately determine if the initiation to that group is worth the price they may ultimately have to pay. Turkey may find it is no match for the power Iran is amassing in the area and be forced to submit in the end, losing its own will as a nation.
Having said all of this in an optimistic vein, I must add that recent events in the Middle East do not portend well for democracy. Iran is on the move in Lebanon and other nations throughout the area. The Egyptian uprising has Iran’s fingerprints all over it, and they will not miss an opportunity to use any civil unrest to promote their extremist policies and implant them. Azerbaijan must continue to be unyielding in its determination to retain its free will as a nation.
Norma Zager and Ari Bussel write a series "Postcards from America - Postcards from Israel", which is published in the Muslim World Today and appears on websites around the world. In November, her first book, “Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills Greenscam” was released and deals with oil, environmental issues and the legal framework in the USA.