Watching a June 21 panel discussion that the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hosted at the Rayburn House Office Building reinforced something I had long known. Azerbaijan and Israel not only share a close relationship, but the secular, democratic Muslim state is subjected to vitriol that at least rhymes with the sort that is regularly lobbed at the Jewish state.
Titled “Safeguarding the people of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the event was an ironic program of a commission named after a Holocaust survivor and former congressman.
Speakers voiced outrageous claims against Azerbaijan that bore an uncanny resemblance to the ways the so-called “Squad”—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and others—treats Israel.
As a former Israeli communications minister, I was outraged to see members of Congress and other prominent Americans attack one of America’s greatest allies against the Iranian regime. They went after Israel as well for standing by Azerbaijan. Biased speech after biased speech, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Squad had gone mainstream in Congress.
Congressional human rights commissions evidently no longer care to treat both sides of a conflict fairly. Event speakers heavily favored the Armenians. Azerbaijani voices were silenced. It even seemed that someone was erasing pro-Azerbaijani comments on the YouTube feed, as with one that linked to a rebuttal of the hearing.
Sam Brownback, a former US ambassador, stated falsely that Azerbaijan drove Christians out of Karabakh.
“Do we want to see yet another ancient Christian population driven out of its homeland? A lot of this is with US weaponry or with Israeli weaponry that the Azeris have. This should not be taking place on our watch and at this time,” he said.
He neglected to mention that 30,000 Jews and up to 450,000 Christians live in Azerbaijan as equal citizens.
Also ignored: Armenia banished a million Azerbaijanis from their homes and destroyed more than 60 mosques in Karabakh. They defiled others with pigs, used them as watch-towers or transformed them into Iranian mosques. To the Lantos commission, however, the conflict was about “driving the Christians out,” not ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from 20% of the country.
That rhymes with the Squad’s false claims that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about “driving the Palestinians out,” when it is really about the Palestinian attempt to drive Jews out.
The former ambassador’s argument also bore an uncanny similarity to the arguments of the BDS movement. Brownback argued for “a bipartisan Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Act,” imagining a law—not just a resolution—under which Washington would dictate to Azerbaijan what its “minimal human rights standards” should be. The US would also give “basic security guarantees” to Armenia.
Brownback also declared that Washington should stop sending weapons to Azerbaijan unless the latter removes its checkpoint from the Lachin Corridor. It’s worth noting that Russia and Iran—both staunch enemies of the United States—are the chief proponents of removing that checkpoint.
Russians want to keep exploiting Azerbaijan’s natural resources, in violation of international law, while Iran aims to keep using Armenia to bypass Western sanctions. The panel did not mention Armenia’s close ties to Russia and Iran.
Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, said Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has been acting in a way that is “almost analogous to what we saw with Saddam Hussein.”
Aliyev recently opened an embassy in Tel Aviv and hails from a country with a friendly relationship with Israel. Hussein launched Scud missiles at Israel during the Gulf War and used to issue grants to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, who murdered Israelis in the second intifada. (He also compared Azerbaijan reclaiming Karabakh—which it did in accordance with four UN Security Council resolutions—to Hussein’s illegal invasion of Kuwait.)
That would all have been sufficiently problematic. But Rubin also proclaimed that Washington should “diplomatically convince Israel that perhaps it’s not entirely in its interest to continue blind support for Azerbaijan.”
“How can Israel expect the international community to rally behind it to embrace the importance of preserving Jewish cultural heritage in the West Bank in the face of some Palestinian leaders, who would like to see it entirely destroyed, if Israel is not contributing to the preservation of Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh?” he asked.
In other words, Israel should be threatened into switching sides—counter to its interests in supporting Azerbaijan in the face of threats from Iran and its proxies—merely because of a strong Armenian lobby, which hopes to make Israel into “America’s stooge,” which does its bidding.
One speaker, an academic, even referred to Azerbaijan committing a “second Armenian genocide,” an eerie similarity to some members of Congress accusing Israel of a “Palestinian genocide.”
Sadly, no member of Congress has objected to any of this, which makes me wonder, again, whether the Squad has gone mainstream.
I’ve offered just a small taste of the propaganda put forth at the event. The question remains: How should Israel respond to this sort of pressure?
My advice is that Israel should resist US pressure of this sort and stick with Azerbaijan—one of its greatest allies against the Iranian threat. Allies should have each other’s back.
Just as Azerbaijan stands with Israel, we should stand with Azerbaijan—united against our common enemies.
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