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December 13, 2016 9:07 am

Anti-Trump Boycott of Azerbaijan-Hosted Hanukkah Party Will Harm Muslim-Jewish Ties, Leaders Say

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A protest against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons.

A protest against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org — The decision by eight Jewish organizations to boycott a Hanukkah event sponsored in part by the government of Azerbaijan could harm Muslim-Jewish relations, critics are warning.

The left-of-center groups — which include Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, refugee advocacy group HIAS, Union for Reform Judaism, Workmen’s Circle, Jewish Women International, Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and National Council of Jewish Women — announced they will not attend the December 14 celebration hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, because it is to be held at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC and paid for by an Azerbaijani government with a poor human rights record.

“I think the boycott is misconceived,” Rabbi David Wolpe, leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and member of a new interfaith project, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, told JNS.org. “I’ve visited Azerbaijan. It is not a perfect place, granted, but they have wonderful relations with Israel and the Jewish community there feels secure and esteemed.”

“It sounds like Purim rather than Hanukkah,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “In the Purim story, everything is turned upside down — and here we have an important Muslim country reaching out with a friendly gesture to the Jewish people, and these Jewish organizations turn around and boycott them.”

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Cooper added, “These groups are always saying we have to find moderate Muslims, but then they find some political reason to snub them.”

The Workmen’s Circle charged that the government of Azerbaijan “sanctions violent suppression,” and Americans for Peace Now said that the Muslim country’s human rights record “is dismal, as laid out in detail in the annual State Department Human Rights report.”

Others have said it is the choice of the president-elect’s hotel as the venue, and not the sponsor, which is primarily responsible for their decision to boycott.

Ameinu CEO Gideon Aronoff told JNS.org that holding the program at the recently opened Trump hotel, located in the renovated Old Post Office building, will “personally enrich President-elect Trump” and “makes it appear that the Conference is seeking to curry favor with the president-elect.”

The president of the National Council of Young Israel, Farley Weiss — who plans to attend the event — disputed the claim that the choice of venue was politically motivated.

“It was very kind of the Embassy of Azerbaijan to pick the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue for the convenience of the many Conference of Presidents participants who will be heading to the White House later that same day for President Obama’s annual Hanukkah party,” Weiss said.

Endowment for Middle East Truth President Sarah Stern, also participating in the program, said the groups criticizing Azerbaijan are being inconsistent, since “these boycotting organizations have friendly relations with other Muslim regimes that violate human rights — such as Turkey, Jordan and especially the Palestinian Authority (PA), which according to the State Department ‘restricts freedom of speech, press and assembly,’ ‘abuses detainees’ and tolerates ‘violence against women.’ So will these groups now boycott the PA? Somehow I doubt it.”

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  • Mark Geyzer

    Azerbaijan is probably far from perfect – but it was and is Jewish-friendly. Those “as a Jews” – which Jews? – have no reason to appreciate it. But we, Jews, should.

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