William Daroff and Mukhtar Mammadov
William Daroff and Mukhtar MammadovPhoto: Azerbaijanii embassy in Israel

CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations William Daroff, and Azerbaijani Ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov, met this week in Jerusalem to discuss the growing role played by US Jewish organizations in strengthening cooperation between Baku and Jerusalem.

“The Conference of the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has always been a supporter of Azerbaijan. I was glad to meet the new CEO of the Conference, William Daroff, to discuss Azerbaijan-Israel partnership and future perspectives. Looking forward to continued cooperation with American Jewish organizations towards expanding our partnership,” Mammadov said following the meeting.

Azerbaijani leadership has undertaken a policy of outreach to world Jewish leaders, continuing a centuries-old tradition of brotherly relations with the Jewish people. Mammadov, the first Ambassador to Israel, is a major player in this initiative. Several days after his arrival in Israel at the start of this year, he met with Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Prior to the meeting with Hoenlein, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, in Munich. Aliyev, who has been targeted by Iranian propaganda due to his overt ties with Israel, emphasized to Goldschmidt that close relations with the Jewish people is part of “the Azerbaijani way of life.”

As recently publicized, hundreds of members of the Conference of European Rabbis will arrive in Baku in mid-November for their annual summit. They will visit local synagogues and meet with representatives of different Jewish communities across the country.

Azerbaijan has seven synagogues: three in Baku, two in Quba, and two in Oghuz. A new synagogue opened in Baku in 2010, and is now one of the largest synagogues in Europe.

The country is a model of interfaith harmony, where the nation embraces and protects its Jewish community – the largest in the Muslim-majority world, and which has lived there since the 7th century at least.

Baku was one of the hubs of the Zionist movement during the Russian Empire in the late 19th century. Its first Hovevei Zion chapter was founded in 1891, followed by the establishment of the first Zionist organization in 1899. The short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–1920) saw the continuation of the movement, which was marked by the founding of the Jewish Popular University in 1919, periodicals published in Yiddish, Hebrew, Judeo-Tat and Russian, as well as a number of schools, social clubs, charitable organizations, and cultural institutions.

“It is not just the strategic alliance with Israel, it is not just a common threat from Iran; this is something much deeper, this is a unique history. The Azerbaijanis don’t just ‘tolerate’ Jews, like in other countries. They consider us their brothers. One of the national heroes of the country is a Jewish tank commander named Albert Agarunov, who fell while protecting Azerbaijani land from Armenian occupation. He is revered as a Jew - they emphasize that each and every time. It is not hidden or suppressed,” says Rabbi Zamir Isayev, chairman of the Sephardic community in Azerbaijan.