Israel's political establishmentFor reasons never explained to the public, since the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Israel's political establishment has taken a pro-Serbian stand. In the late summer of 1991, when the Serbian onslaught on Croatia was in full swing, and when, as a consequence, Serbia was well on its way to becoming an international pariah, the government of Israel decided to establish diplomatic relations with it. A concerned citizen who at that time rang up the Foreign Ministry would be told that, as a matter of policy, Israel was happy to establish diplomatic relations with any government that was interested in having such relations with us, and that the matter had nothing whatsoever to do with morality.
Serbia duly opened its embassy in Tel Aviv, and in the Spring of 1992 its ambassador arrived in Israel. He turned out to be Dr. Budimir Kosutic, who until a few months earlier had served as Vice-Premier of the Belgrade government. He had been prominent in the setting up of Chetnik authorities in the occupied parts of Croatia and the coordination of their work, which for the most part consisted in "cleansing" those areas of their non-Serb inhabitants by physical extermination, terrorism, and organized mass expulsion. He was about to be elected the first president of the Chetnik "republic," comprising all the occupied parts of Croatia when it turned out, as the chairman of the Chetnik "parliament" explained, that although he was indeed the best candidate, enjoying the trust of all the regional warlords assembled, "the Serbian people needs him at another post, and a very, very important one at that. Because of the influence of Jews worldwide. Dr. Kosutic has agreed to be our ambassador in the State of Israel. [...] This does not mean that he will not be the president of this republic one day." The sanctions imposed on Serbia by the UN Security Council have held up so far Dr. Kosutic's submission of credentials to the President of Israel and the opening of an Israeli embassy in Belgrade. But they have not prevented the Serbian ambassador to the Jewish State from assuming a high profile on the local scene and, in concert with the Serbian lobby and the Association of Yugoslav Immigrants in Israel, which has taken a rabidly pro-Serbian stand from the beginning, doing his best to promote "the Serbian truth" in this country.
On the other hand, the Israeli government has repeatedly refused to establish diplomatic relations with Croatia. In the case of Croatia, it turned out, the principle that had been cited to justify the setting up of diplomatic ties with Serbia did not apply. On a couple of occasions, anonymous "sources" in the Foreign Ministry were quoted in the press giving puerile explanations of that.
In October 1991 che Serbian siege and devastation of Vukovar was proceeding apace; the siege of Dubrovnik was getting into full swing. Israel and Serbia were beginning to implement the decision on establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. The Jewish community of Croatia released an appeal to the whole Jewish world. It opens by noting
that the Republic of Croatia, whose citizens we are, is attacked by a brutal military force led by the Yugoslav People's Army; that the innocent civilian population is being indiscriminately killed by armed forces from the ground, from the air and from the sea... that over two hundred thousand refugees had left their homes and everything they had achieved in their lives;... that, contrary to international humanitarian laws, these military forces are indiscriminately destroying hospitals, kindergartens, old age homes, schools and other social care institutions; that hundreds of cultural and historical monuments of the highest category, including churches, mosques, monasteries, libraries, cemeteries and Jewish monuments of culture are being heavily damaged or completely destroyed... the latest example [being] the city of Dubrovnik where the second oldest European synagogue stands; that the Jews in Croatia and their institutions, their communal and private property are equally suffering from the same threats and that the destruction of Croatia, its cities and villages may bring to an end the history of this community living on this soil from ancient times.
The appeal then rebuts the attempts of Serbian propaganda to depict the government of Croatia as neo-fascist and anti-Semitic, emphasizing that "the Jewish Community in Croatia enjoys all rights of a religious or national minority without hindrance or any discrimination," and that the government had "publicly denounced and condemned al neo-fascist and extremist ideologies and organizations that threaten the democratic system in Croatia and its citizens and decided to undertake all necessary legal steps to prevent (their) spread." The appeal also expresses Croatian Jewery's "fullest support of the efforts and declared policy of the Government... to build a new and democratic society in which human, political, civil, national and religious rights of every citizen and group will be protected." It ends with the following words:
We especially call upon all our fraternal Jewish organizations and individuals around the world and the general public abroad to impress upon their governments and international organizations the need for a just and immediate peace in Croatia based on protection of human life. We will never forget how our Jewish people was exterminated in the Second World War in front of the eyes of the whole world which observed our tragedy in silence and indifference. We do not want this tragic lesson of history to be repeated.
But nobody in Israel seemed to be listening - certainly not the government. All subsequent inquiries and expressions of concern by members of Croatia's Jewish community have been ignored, as was the letter the Jewish community of Zagreb sent to Prime Minister Rabin on 10 December 1992, voicing the wish and hope of Croatian Jews that Israel would establish full diplomatic ties with their country. (Incidentally, to date Israel has neither recognized, nor established diplomatic relations with, Bosnia-Hercegovina or Macedonia - both internationally recognized sovereign states and members of the U'N.)
Many prominent Jewish personalities and organizations in the diaspora have joined the rest of the world in condemning the war crimes and crimes against humanity the Serbs have committed in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some of these reactions have found their way into the Israeli media. For instance, in an article entitled "US Jews Call for Action against Serb Atrocities," published on the front page of Jerusalem Post on 6 August 1992, it was reported that
American Jewish organizations are taking comparisons of reported Serbian actions to the Holocaust seriously, and have taken a public role in calling for US and international action to stop the atrocities. "As Jews, we are commanded to remember and we have a historical imperative not to remain silent when we hear words such as ethnic cleansing, cattle cars, selections, concentration camps," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'irth. "These terms evoke chilling memories and send shudders down the spine of every Jew." The ADL, the American Jewish Congress, and the American Jewish Committee sponsored an advertisement published in yesterday's New York Times, billed as an open letter to world leaders. Calling on the world to "Stop the Death Camps", the advertisement said, "We must make it clear that we will take every necessary step, including che use of force, to put a stop to this madness and bloodshed." Some 20 Jewish organizations also participated in a rally in Manhattan yesterday calling for intervention in the Bosnian conflict."
However, with the exception of two Knesset members, to this day no Israeli politician has publicly uttered a single word of condemnation of Serbia. Leading Israeli politicians have consistently withstood all attempts by reporters here and abroad to get them to voice the mildest of objections to Serbia's war of genocide and "ethnic cleansing" on its western neighbors. On one occasion, at the time the media were reporting in gory detail about the Serbian concentration camps, Prime Minister Rabin did concede that there was something to be said about the matter. It all goes to show, he said, that Israel must be strong.