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Israel and Muslim World

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Historic Meeting of Muslim Ambassadors and Israel Ambassador at Conference of President Hanukka Party

December 15th 2016

Malcolm Hoenlein

On December 14, 2016 the Conference of Presidents and the Embassy of Azerbaijan co-hosted nearly two hundred guests who filled the room for a reception in Washington, DC to celebrate the upcoming Chanukah holiday and honor those countries and others that provided crucial firefighting personnel and equipment to assist Israel in battling the devastating fires last month.

The event was attended by the ambassadors representing the diverse group of nations and others who aided Israel, leaders from many important American Jewish organizations, Ambassador Ron Dermer of Israel and other honored guests, including members of Congress.  Joining Ambassador Suleymanov of Azerbaijan were ambassadors and diplomats from Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, the PLO, Romania, Russia, Tajikstan and Turkey.  

The event also followed by one day the visit to Azerbaijan of Prime Minister Netanyahu for meetings with President Ilham Aliyev which resulted in stronger ties between the two countries.

Stephen M. Greenberg, Chairman and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO said, “Last night, in a spirit of celebration, mutual respect and gratitude, we brought together a full house of guests from many different faiths, cultures and countries who joined together with us to reaffirm our common humanity.”

In his address to the capacity crowd, Ambassador Suleymanov stressed the value Azerbaijani society has historically placed on acceptance and respect for religious diversity and saying “it is who we are as a people and a nation.” He added that the centuries old Jewish community is and has always been an integral part of Azerbaijan.

Mr. Greenberg in his welcoming remarks noted there has been a significant Jewish presence in Azerbaijan for many centuries. Originally part of the Jewish population in the Caucasus known as “Mountain Jews”, the Azerbaijan Jewish community today continues to enjoy full acceptance in Azerbaijani society and to freely and publicly express their Jewish religious identity. He said, “A large delegation of leaders of the Conference of Presidents had a remarkable visit to Baku and experienced firsthand the open acceptance of Jews as a part of the Azerbaijani people. It is model for nations everywhere to emulate.” 

Ambassador Dermer also spoke, noting that the diverse array of guests represented the essence of Chanukah as a public celebration of religious freedom and expression, noting that Israel is a country founded on the principle of protecting the rights of religious minorities and is committed to maintaining and preserving the holy sites of all religions under its protection. Ambassador Dermer also stressed the importance of finding more opportunities like the event last night to reinforce the common values and interests and nurture the relationships among the varied participants. Turning to the assistance Israel received in fighting the fires, he said, “Chanukah is a holiday of lighting flames to illuminate the world. Tonight we have lit those flames together and we have shown we can douse the flames of destruction together. Together, we must continue to do both.”

In remarks before presenting each of the diplomats with a traditional chanukiah (candle holder) used during Chanukah to Mr. Hoenlein expressed the gratitude of the Conference of Presidents for the help to Israel provided by their countries. He said, “We were moved by Ambassador Suleymanov’s suggestion to hold this event. It represents an essential part of who the Jewish people are to publicly mark the Chanukah holiday, to express our respect for other religions by joining with Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a, Christians and every other faith tradition and to promote understanding by focusing on what we have in common rather than what separates and divides us. The outpouring of assistance to Israel from so many different countries, in its time of dire need, is something Israel is always prepared to do for others and should be the model for international cooperation.”

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