It was recently reported in various media outlets that the Islamic Republic of Iran attacked Azerbaijan on social media utilizing vivid antisemitic caricatures, depicting Azerbaijanis as having a huge nose with sidelocks. The question remains, why did the Iranian regime depict Azerbaijanis in a manner that matches antisemitic tropes?
Eli Shaked, former Israel Consul General to Istanbul, declared: “The Iranians historically are very sensitive about their neighbors in the north. There have been good relations between Israel and Azerbaijan for many years now. Israel has had an embassy in Baku for years now. Now there will be an Azerbaijani Embassy in Israel. The Iranians are suspecting that Israel is using Azerbaijan as a bridge to get into Iran to spy on the Iranians, to use Azeris that live in Iran to get information or to act against Iran.”
According to him, “It is not something new. Of course, now that Azerbaijan is going to open an embassy, it is another step. The suspicions and sensitivity of Iran vis-à-vis Azerbaijan is something historical and not new. They know that Azerbaijan and Israel are close. I don’t know to what extent the Iranians are right, but they have a good reason to suspect.” For this reason, he believes that the Iranian regime is now attacking Azerbaijan on social media using antisemitic caricatures.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a member of the board at the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, concurred with Shaked: “The Iranians suspect that the Azeris are cooperating with Israel against Iran. Whether their suspicion is based on something I don’t know. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijanis do help Israel with all kinds of intelligence and actions against Iran.”
He added: “Now, with the riots in Iran, the mullah’s regime has been greatly weakened and the Azeris played a role in this. So, not only did the Azerbaijanis help Israel with intelligence operations, they are now helping Israel with these riots. This is what I understand. In their ethics, if the Azerbaijanis are supporting Israel, then they should be attacked as Jews. This is the problem. They are being attacked as Jew supporters by the haters for they claim that the Azerbaijanis are the long arm of Israel.”
However, the Iranian regime is not just attacking Azerbaijanis because of their close relationship with the State of Israel. They are also attacking Azerbaijan because its government pursues a multi-culturalism policy, where every faith that lives in Azerbaijan is treated with great respect and dignity. They are attacking Azerbaijan because it is a country with zero anti-Semitism. They are attacking Azerbaijan because it is perhaps the only place in the world where it is safe enough for Jews to leave their synagogues unlocked at night.
While Azerbaijan is a country that cherishes its Jewish community, Iran is a country that recently arrested at least five Jewish citizens allegedly for their involvement in the Iran protests. It should be noted that Iran is a country that used to have a Jewish population of 100,000 souls, but most of these people left after the 1979 Islamist revolution, after a prominent Iranian Jewish businessman was executed. For those who remained, life was precarious at best, as the Iranian regime treated Jews as second-class citizens, who were legally barred the right to work in public service, in the army, in higher education, and of course, pilgrimages to Israel were strictly off-limits.
Not just the Jewish people but all of the ethnic groups and religious minorities of Iran are being greatly repressed by the mullah’s regime, which has an extremist interpretation of Islam to the point that women are raped en masse in prison due to the belief that nonvirgins are barred access to paradise.
The mullahs regime in Tehran hates Jews, Christians, Bahais, Mandeans, Zoroastrians, Baloch, Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Ahwazi Arabs, Lors, Turkmen and essentially everyone who is not a Shia religious extremist like themselves to the point that they deprive the members of the ethnic groups of the chance to educate their children in their own mother tongue. They cannot even tolerate the presence of Bahai holy sites within their territory, thus prompting them to destroy every single Bahai house of worship, including the ones of historic value.
In contrast, Bahais have complete freedom of worship in Azerbaijan and Jewish children in Azerbaijan are educated from a young age to speak Hebrew. In fact, when I visited Azerbaijan, I sometimes used my knowledge of Hebrew to get around because it was easier to find a Hebrew speaker than an English speaker. It is precisely this openness, this acceptance of the other, that makes bordering Azerbaijan seem a threat to the mullahs in Tehran, causing them to engage in anti-Semitic rage against Azerbaijan.
Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”