update deskIsrael News

Israeli tourism to Azerbaijan doubles during Gaza war

In the two and half months since flights between Tel Aviv and Baku resumed in mid-March, more than 8,000 Israelis visited Azerbaijan, a 50% increase compared to the same period last year.

The Old City with Flame Tower in the background, Baku, Azerbaijan, June 20, 2024. Photo by Aziz Karimov/Getty Images.
The Old City with Flame Tower in the background, Baku, Azerbaijan, June 20, 2024. Photo by Aziz Karimov/Getty Images.

The number of Israelis visiting Azerbaijan this spring has doubled even as the eight-month old war against Hamas rages on in Gaza.

The figures, which come amid rising anti-Semitism across the globe, including in both the United States and Europe, are indicative of the close ties between Israel and the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim country, which have continued unabated throughout the war.

In the two and half months since flights between Tel Aviv and Baku resumed in mid-March, more than 8,000 Israelis visited Azerbaijan, a 50% increase compared to the same period last year, according to official Azerbaijani tourism statistics.

Nearly 30,000 Israelis visited Azerbaijan in 2023 before flights to Baku were suspended following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, which triggered the war.

“Azerbaijan is a safe destination for Israelis and Jews,” Jamilya Talibzadeh, director of the Azerbaijan Tourism Bureau in Israel, told JNS. “There have been no demonstrations against Israel or antisemitic attacks.”

“The multicultural and secular country has always accepted and appreciated the Jewish community and lived with it in peace,” she added.

At a time when some major foreign carriers, including American Airlines and Air Canada, have still not resumed flights to Tel Aviv, Azerbaijan Airlines currently operates 11 weekly flights between the countries. Israir also offers three flights a week between Tel Aviv and Baku.

Strategic ties that bind

Last year, Azerbaijan made history by becoming the first Shi’ite country to open an embassy in Israel.

For Israel, ties with Azerbaijan—which shares a 428-mile border with Iran and supplies and estimated 30% of the Jewish state’s oil—are of strategic importance. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a leading purchaser of Israeli military hardware, which helped lift Baku to victory in its 2020 war with archrival Armenia.

Baku’s burgeoning relations with Jerusalem have angered the Islamic Republic; an Iranian carried out a lethal attack against Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Teheran, while a pro-Israel Azerbaijani lawmaker was targeted in an attempted assassination in Baku.

Earlier this year, the presidents of Israel and Azerbaijan met in Germany, reaffirming the strength of the bilateral ties between the two countries even as the war against Hamas continued.

The country’s decision to resume flights to Israel this spring was made despite external pressure not to do so. Azerbaijan has a close historic alliance with Turkey, whose volatile and intermittently hostile leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been one of the most outspoken opponents of Israel.

“Looking forward to having more Israeli tourists in Azerbaijan with just a 3-hour flight,” Azerbaijani Ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov tweeted at the time.

About 25,000-30,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan today, while tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Republic immigrated to Israel and maintain strong ties with the Caucasus nation.

Historically, Azerbaijan is home to three distinct Jewish communities: European Jews, who settled in the area during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, and during World War II; Jews from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, who settled mainly in Baku during the early part of the 20th century; and Mountain Jews, the most sizable and ancient group.

In a major vote of confidence, the Conference of European Rabbis had scheduled their biennial convention in Baku last fall, only to postpone it because of the war.

The city has five Chabad emissaries, three synagogues, two Jewish schools, and a kosher restaurant as well as hotels that cater to religiously observant groups.

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