Jovan Ćulibrk

The State of Israel and its Relations with the Successor States of the Former Yugoslavia during the Balkan Conflict in 1990s and in its Aftermath

Abstract: The paper deals with the relationship between the State of Israel and countries that emerged after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Compared to European states and the USA Israel had a much more serious and balanced approach to the Balkan crisis in the nineties, although such a stance sometimes produced misunderstandings with the key Israeli ally, the US. This paper analysis the reasons for the behavior of Israeli diplomacy as well as internal Israeli polemics and dilemmas about the Balkans.*       


1.1. The First Yugoslavia and the Jewish National Home (1918-1941) By the time that World War One had shaken empires, the hopes of many small peoples for their national liberation was raised. The Kingdom of Serbia in its Corfu Declaration proclaimed its struggle to be for the liberation and unity of all the Southern Slavs; in the British Palestine the Balfour Declaration recognized rights of the Jewish people for its “national home” in the land of its forefathers. By suggestion of David Vid Albala, the Serbian Royal Government instructed its representative minister in Washington, Milenko Vesnić to act and on 27th of December 1917 an official letter to the Zionist organization in Serbia was published in the name of the Government, supporting Jewish “just endeavour of resuscitating their beloved country in Palestine”.1 By the virtue of Vesnić’s letter (in which the future Jewish state was named “Israel”) being the first country in the world to support the goals of the Balfour Declaration, Serbia did it “explicitly, in difference with the Balfour Declaration itself that caused many controversies and confusions”.2

Although the primary purpose of this letter was “to gain more aid for the Serbian war effort”, according to Harriet Pass Freidenreich it undoubtedly “laid the foundation for future policy”.3 Although “by far the most heterogeneous Diaspora community at that time”,4 the Yugoslavian Jews in many ways saw a progress during the interwar period as whole. Freindenreich considers the basis of sympathetic attitude of the ruling Karađorđević royal household and the government to be “the tradition of tolerance of the Serbian Orthodox church” and “the friendly relations maintained between the Serbian people and the native Sephardic Jews”.5 Such an attitude supposed an active support to the Zionistic efforts: not only that King Alexander received Nahum Sokolow in 1928 and Menahem Ussishkin in 1930 but virtually all the Jewish leaders ranging from Jabotinsky to Ben Gurion visited Yugoslavia. Forests in Palestine were dedicated in the name of King Alexander and in the name of his late father King Petar I.

The changes came after Alexander’s assassination in 1934 and rise of Nazism. Anti-Semitism still did not have any organized form in Yugoslavia, but it started to rise. The “Eleventh hour” as Levinger called it came in October 1940, when the pro-German government proscribed Anti-Jewish legislation.6 In the newly established autonomous Banovina Hrvatska, it was applied even more rigorously  than it was prescribed. Only then the government started to circumscribe Zionist activities more rigorously – but aliyah increased.     

1.2. The Holocaust in Yugoslavia The same government of Cvetković and Maček that introduced anti-Semitic measures went too far for national patience when they signed Tripartite Pact on March 25th next year. A bloodless coup d’état led by the Serbian general Dušan Simović came on March 27th to save the national honor of Yugoslavia but also to trumpet a catastrophe for its Jews, and not only for them. Following the German conquest the country was divided among Germany’s allies and Serbia itself was submitted to an extremely severe occupational regime. Serbia was the place where ordinary units of the Wehrmacht did all the killing of the Jews and the murders happened while the Final Solution was still in the making, paving its path and helping it to gain its form and momentum.7

In the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a puppet state that included Bosnia, Herzegovina and parts of Serbia and earned the title “Satellite par Excellence” from Raul Hilberg, the murder went too far even for Germans. Although considered by the NDH as only a second-rate enemy, the same as the Gypsies, one half of the local Jewry was murdered in the NDH camps in Pavelić’s “attempt to exterminate million and 800 thousand Orthodox with fire and sword at any cost…” as the German plenipotentiary general in Zagreb Glaise von Horstenau put it.8 For the rest of the Croatian Jews, the NDH government paid to the Germans 30 Reichsmarks for each Jew to be deported to Auschwitz, where they perished.

Only those Jews who reached the Italian occupation zone or the resistance fighters had some chance. Jews generally were more in favor of the Partisan movement: being more aggressive against the Germans and more centralized due to its communist leadership under Tito, it gained support of western allies, allegedly as result of the covert Soviet influence on the British intelligence services as well. In 1943 the British put aside loosely organized and often compromised pro-royal Četnik resistance movement and its leader Dragoljub Mihailović was subsequently executed by communists in 1946. However, not a few Jews joined Mihailović in 1941,[9] and his orders concerning the Jewish fate and the treatment of Jews are very ethical, to say the least.[10] In a final account, “the Holocaust wiped out an estimated 55- to 60,000 Yugoslav Jews, approximately 80 percent of the prewar Jewish population of the country.”[11]       

1.3. The Socialistic Yugoslavia and the State of Israel This complex relationship had four phases: 1. 1945-1955 During its first ten years, the socialist Yugoslavia more or less was in favor of the State of Israel: with the Soviet bloc it did not oppose establishment of Israel in the UN, it helped in decisive shipment of arms to the newly established IDF, and allowed aliyah.[12] Until 1952, “in a series of five emigration waves, 7,578 persons departed for Israel”, cutting in that way the Yugoslav Jewish community in half.[13] On the level of Jewish community, ties with Israel and the rest of world Jewry were from the very beginning of Israeli existence allowed on much higher level than in any other communist country, and it will remain like that even in more problematic times, including service to those Jews who fled from the East through Yugoslavia. No doubt that lot of mutual sympathy came through the common socialist background. 2. 1955-1967 Since Bandung Conference of April 1955 Josip Broz Tito, who was looking for a way to strengthen position of Yugoslavia and at the time stretched between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact, saw a chance in creating a ‘third bloc’ that emerged in a form of the movement of the ‘non-aligned countries’. Although in that way Nasser became his closest ally and Egypt began to purchase weapons from Yugoslavia, for some time “Tito continued to maintain an image of an impartial observer whose aim was to help achieve a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict”.[14] But, when Ben-Gurion asked Tito to mediate in the conflict, Tito declined.[15] 3. 1967-1980 In the wake of Six Day War, Yugoslavia severed diplomatic ties with Israel and Tito “called [world communist leaders] for the rearmament of Egypt”.[16] Afterwards, Yugoslavia not only armed the PLO, but also became its safe haven and training camp and advocated PLO’s cause in the world. At the same time, the Bosnian Muslims gained national name and they suddenly became ethnic instead of religious group; within the same process Muslim Albanians on Kosovo gained broad autonomy within Serbia and SFRY. The Jewish community (“pro-Israel, but shows it in a subtle rather than a blatant manner”[17]) in Yugoslavia came to a rift between its secular and generally leftist orientation and the Yugoslavian vehemently pro-Arab policy. All that time Israel seemed confused with a change in Yugoslav behavior, and many diplomatic and covert missions were deployed by Israeli side in a search for the reasons of such change, and to offer hand to Yugoslavians. But, Tito’s government was already staunch Arab ally.  

1.4. The Years of Confusion (1980-1991) Concerning Israel, the fourth phase and two processes began in Yugoslavia with Tito’s death in May 1980. First was the re-establishment of the identity of the Yugoslav state, and among other inner Yugoslav discrepancies, it suddenly became evident that not all the peoples and all structures of the country identified with its pro-Arab stance. A good example is destruction of Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor on July 7 1981: while the government media condemned the Israeli action, several magazines (Start for example) covered the military side of Operation Babylon at length with open sympathy for the Israeli Air Force.

On the other side, with the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war and due to the connections with the Arab world, the export of weapons in a few years reached enormous sums (SFRY was not alone in selling arms to the both sides at same time – Israel used the opportunity as well). When the military industries got contracts to sell Yugoslavian M-84 tanks (upgraded version of Soviet T-72) to Kuwait, it seems that income from the military exports exceeded even that from tourism. At the time, Yugoslavian companies were engaged in all the biggest building enterprises in Iraq and Libya. These financial relationships affected the country’s foreign policy: for years the head of the foreign office was Raif Dizdarević, a Bosnian Muslim and important pro-Arab lobbyist. Finally, when Iraq and Iran agreed on a truce, it was the Yugoslav general Slavko Jović who commanded the UN peacekeepers in their midst.

Therefore it is not wonder if even in 1987 Edgar Bronfmann, the President of the World Jewish Congress, admitted that in spite of his efforts, the “Yugoslav government is still very adamant on the questions of the formal ties with Israel”.[18] The Jewish community in Yugoslavia itself needed more than six years from “the writer David Albahari’s public statement in support of Israel in 1982”[19] to the first organized action regarding the restoration of diplomatic ties.

In the meantime, “the separate republics pursued their own foreign policies in relation to Israel”.[20] Serbia saw in Israel one of its priorities and “in summer 1990 Serbian Prime Minister Stanko Radmilovic and his 300-member entourage arrived in Israel”.[21] Two years before, the Society of Serbian-Jewish friendship had been formed and broke ice as the first NGO in Yugoslavia – although its later actions and especially those of its secretary late Klara Mandić will be often contested. The Croatian and Slovenian politicians accused Serbians that their action “does not really have Israel and the Middle Eastern crisis in the center of attention at all”[22] but serve to Serbian political aims. However, Israel regarded it as clear sign “that Yugoslavia was ready to establish diplomatic relations with Israel”[23] – except that Yugoslavia was at the very end of its existence.


2.1. The Beginning of an End: the War in Croatia Israel did not need a better sign that things went wrong in Yugoslavia than the speech of Franjo Tuđman at the convention of his Croatian Democratic Union in 1990. At the time, he had already published a book The Wastelands of Historical Reality in which he accepted some attitudes of the Holocaust revisionists and the blatantly downsized numbers of victims of notorious Jasenovac concentration camp. But, in this speech he went one step further and proclaimed the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia to be a legitimate part of the history of Croatian statehood.

However, Jacob Abadi thinks that “Israel’s foreign policy has been extremely pragmatic”[24] since the separation of Croatia and Slovenia was immediately recognized and “the role played by many Croatians in the Holocaust was disregarded”.[25] But, Israel refused to establish full diplomatic relations with Croatia until Tuđman’s death although he apologized to the Jewish public in a letter to the president of B’nai B’rith Kent Schiner in 1994 and revised the English edition of his book from 1996.[26] Nevertheless, this apology was the first in the row of many actions by Croatian side to settle record with Jews and Israel, regarding it of the ultimate importance for its international status.

A significant attitude is expressed in the writings of Igor Primorac of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, more precisely in two variations of the same text, Israel and Genocide in Croatia and Israel and the War in Balkans.[27] According to him, “since the beginning of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Israel’s political establishment has taken a pro-Serbian stand”[28] – and the facts that Israel had an embassy in Belgrade since October 1991 and that the “Third Yugoslavia” was the first among Yugoslavia’s successor states to open the embassy in Israel (though ambassador Budimir Košutić will never submit his credentials to the President of Israel due to UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Belgrade) are just confirming that. Moreover, according to Primorac, both Israeli public and press same as Yad Vashem refused to recognize crimes that Serbs committed in Croatia, “the first case of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust” as Primorac saw it.[29]

2.2. The War in Bosnia: Slaughter and the New Utopia By the time that the war in Bosnia started in 1992, the world was in the middle of a re-structuralization following the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact. New hopes were raised with unification of Europe and the rise of liberal governments from the White House to the borders of Russia. The Berlin Wall was breached and nothing seemed more outdated in postmodern political discourse than national state – and national state with communist government was even worse in the Serbian case. Therefore, it is not strange that all those structures searching multi- cultural/ethnic/confessional new world saw the war in Bosnia somehow as their Spanish War, the struggle for their ideals – especially because Bosnia was seen as remnant of Yugoslavia, country idealized by many Western leftists for its socialistic openness for decades.

Israel had its own problem with Bosnia and Herzegovina “due to their connections to the Islamic world”.[30] Country’s president Alija Izetbegović served in the Second World War in the recruiting organization for 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS 'Handschar', formed of the Bosnian Muslims in 1943 with blessing and personal devout of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem.[31] Later Izetbegović wrote and published in samizdat The Islamic Declaration - his vision of future Islamist Bosnia as country where “there can be neither peace nor coexistence between the Islamic religion and the non-Islamic social and political institutions”.[32] Israel’s intelligence community had serious reasons to believe that independent Bosnia under such leadership soon will become hotbed for Islamic terrorism in the heart of Europe, undermining Israel’s back.[33]

However, few things became obvious in Israel at the time of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina: First, that Bosnia is slaughterhouse with all three sides participating in murder; Second, that Milošević’ government not only do not fit to the traditional Serbian picture, but also is interested much more in local power than in its image in newly introduced global world; Third, that Clinton administration want to make some deals with Muslim world in Balkans – for example, it was nobody else than Tony Lake, Clinton’s national security adviser who gave “Iran a wink and a nod to go to Bosnia”.[34]

Israel tried very hard to keep a balanced approach and to understand development on ground in former Yugoslavia: that included visit of Ori Orr, the chairperson of the Knesset Foreign Relations and Security Committee, to Belgrade in 1994, when he spoke bitterly about Israeli experiences with international sanctions, boycotts and the UN. On the other hand, already in 1992 Dedi Zucker of Meretz and Rafael Ellul of Labour together with Abdul Wahad Darawshe (the Arab Democratic Party) succeeded in raising the Bosnian issue in the Knesset and discussed it from the common viewpoint of the Western media of the time.

The same viewpoint was accepted and even partly formed by the Jewish organizations and intellectuals in USA and Europe who loudly advocated the Bosnian and Croatian cause and rallied on their behalf. The key event was inauguration of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on April 22 1993, where Elie Wiesel publicly asked President Clinton to act in Bosnia in the name of humanity against “the mass killings, the destruction of Muslim sacred sites, the cold-blooded murder of thousands of children” by Serbs – in spite of  a protocol that avoided any comparisons with the Holocaust.[35] Here a serious rift between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is clearly visible. It did not happen for the first or last time in Israeli history for sure (the issue of the centralism in Holocaust remembrance and research in the fifties; and the recent issue of the Second Gulf War be two other examples), but this time opinions were radically opposite, announcing a deepening of differences within the Jewish national body. In Israel, Yossef Lapid stated in Ma’ariv that “we must give the Serbs all the sympathy and support we can”[36] and journalists as Pazit Ravina of the Davar and Yohanan Ramati of the Jerusalem Post gave explanations of the military events differently from CNN and the Western media – and in many cases those explanations were very similar to the reports of UNPROFOR officers on the ground, usually avoided by those who looked for shocking news or transparent guilt,[37] as it was shown by the actual CIA chief Michael Hayden in his address at a conference at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh in November 2000.[38] It is significant that on the Yugoslav matter ways of the Israeli left and right very often converged.

Primorac have very radical explanation of the Israeli attitude: “the state of Israel was established at the price of, among other things, dispossessing the majority of its native Palestinian inhabitants” and its existence “is predicated on preventing the return of those refugees and expellees and their descendant to their homeland”.[39] Thus, Israelis can understand even the radical measures of their Serbian friends in painful enterprise of state-making/defending homeland in Bosnia. Such comparisons in fact are very often and are summarized in the book of James Ron, Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel. Triggered by the second Intifada, Palestinian “most dangerous chapter of their 120-year long battle with Jewish nationalism”,[40] this book in its Introduction shortly explains the basis for comparison: “Both states were overtly nationalist in their orientation, perceiving themselves as defenders of a persecuted people threatened by powerful neighbors”.[41] Israel and Serbia differs only in use of ethnic policing by Israel instead of ethnic cleansing, employed by Serbia. 

This difference dictated also a difference in a way that international community led by Clinton administration: Israel was brought to a negotiation table in Oslo by presumably right policy; to bring Serbia to Dayton the NATO had to be employed. So, on February 28 1994 US Air Force F-16s shoot down five Serbian planes in the first combat action in NATO history - yet achievement was not on the Balkan battleground, but in the fact that Russia didn’t react![42] And not only that the NATO was alone on the battlefield now – he also found a new role that will allow his existence in era when he was not needed anymore as a shield against communism.

An efficient reaction of the allegedly outdated and ill-equipped Army of the Republic of Srpska followed NATO air-attacks: a British Sea-Harrier warplane was downed on April 11 1994, an American F-16 in June 1995 and a French Mirage-2000 in August same year. Among all possible explanations for VRS’s good performance, one was found in Israeli “arms supplies to Serbia (in breach of the UN sanctions)”[43] although already “in the beginning of 1991 the French television network had announced that Israeli arms dealers were involved in selling weapons to the Croatian army”.[44] In 1994 Rabin turned down Slovenia’s President Kučan request to buy weapons from Israel but immediately after UN sanctions were lifted “Israel decided to ship arms to Bosnia by using French agents”.[45] The most serious story often heard around and published in The European in 1993, was that “the Jews of Sarajevo had been allowed to leave the besieged town in a number of airlifts and convoys in 1992 as a part of a deal involving Israeli arms supplies to the Serbs”.[46] The movement of Jews was negotiated and realized by Ivan Čerešnješ, who was the head of the Sarajevo Jewish community at the time and he found himself in extremely complicated situation after the war locked the Sarajevo Jewish community in the embattled city. He works now at the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University and in a personal interview he contributed for this paper detailed a description of the whole event that did not admit such theories – at least from his own experience. But on March 27th, 1999 the Army of Yugoslavia shot down the supposedly “invisible” US stealth-fighter F-117 during NATO strikes against Yugoslavia, and the same suspicions were raised again.

Neither Israeli politicians nor the Israeli public were silent in July 1995 in the aftermath of Srebrenica massacre. Foreign minister Peres on meeting with his counterparts from Tunisia and Egypt in Vienna, Prime Minister Rabin for Jordanian television and minister for environment issues Sarid in the Knesset – all of them condemned the crime and those responsible for it. The same month “Israel responded to King Hussein of Jordan’s request, and both countries dispatched humanitarian aid to the Muslims in Bosnia”.[47] Approximately a hundred Bosnian refugees were accepted in Israel already in 1993. An interesting Israeli view on Srebrenica, although lacking field experience, is Manfred Gerstenfeld’s Srebrenica: the Dutch Sabra and Shatilla, where he gives his version of Israeli/Serbian comparisons.[48]

2.3. Kosovo: Our Ally War? Writing about Israeli media during NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, Nitzan Horowitz of Ha’aretz declared that for Israeli media and public the war was difficult to manage: they had somehow to confront global media and NATO propaganda machinery with its gross overestimation of cruelties and casualties.[49] But, it was much more difficult for the State of Israel and its diplomacy: they had openly to confront Israel’s key ally, the USA. Confrontation came not only as the result of an opposite attitude of the Israeli side, although then-foreign minister Ariel Sharon “even declared that an independent Kosovo might become a center of Islamic terrorism in Europe”[50] and “the call of Belgrade’s Jews to stop the bombardments found an attentive ear in Israel”.[51] It came from the pressure of the ally himself, Clinton administration: it is enough to read Waging Modern War, book of Wesley Clark who was commander-in-chief of NATO forces in this operation to see how resolute they were to gain any support for a problematic action and to cover its failures.[52]

Results of pressure on Israel were mixed: the government isolated Sharon as expressing only his own opinion (at the time same as until Sharon’s illness, him and Netanyahu were in the middle of fierce personal battle) and the Israeli embassy in Washington “released a special press announcement with quotes by Netanyahu ‘expressing support and identification with Nato’s activities in Kosovo’”.[53] Ambassador in the USA Zalman Shoval at the time declared that Israel “consistently identifies with the American ally,”[54] Israel dispatched field hospital to Albanian refugee camp in Skopje and Ehud Barak, after he replaced Netanyahu as Prime Minister, told to Clinton that Kosovo operation is “an extraordinary victory” and “a defining moment in the New World we are entering”.[55] In spite of it, things in the parliament went different: after the intervention of the late Yuri Stern from the Yisrael Beiteynu party, who used what Primoratz loves to call “World War Two argument”, the Knesset refused to condemn Serbia for “aggression” as it was expected from the ally.

The thing that changed the approach of the Israeli public was the “large picture of train filled with [Albanian] deportees” on the front page of Yedioth Aharonot on April 2 1999.[56] From that moment the “media – and with it the government – started referring to the Serbs’ actions on Kosovo as crimes against humanity”.[57] Produced or real, the reminiscence of the Holocaust was simply too strong. What was missing from the picture was the 77,000 strong NATO force on the Albanian side of mountains and additional 20,000 NATO soldiers in Macedonia who were waiting to enter Serbia on foot (38,601 US servicemen participating in whole). The Yugoslavian security forces, with all possible atrocities that Milošević’s regime could commit, were only preparing to face the remaining world power according to a 50 year old battle plan.[58]

However, the Balkan crisis left its traces on Israel: Camp David conference had been announced with the great expectations by the US administration, but it deemed closer to the two Balkan peace conferences, one in Dayton on Bosnia (1995) and second in Rambouille on Kosovo (1999) than to Oslo. It was equally superficially prepared and with equally great stress on supposed Clinton administration peace-making victory; if their heritage is not the only reason why Camp David failed, Clinton’s pre-election needs for sure contributed greatly to the failure of peace process. 

At the same time when the Israeli public got new picture about Kosovo, also picture of Croatia began to change. Immediately after the death of Franjo Tuđman in December 1999, his democratic rival Stjepan Mesić together with center-left party of Ivica Račan won elections and tried to change course of Croatian state. Relations with Israel were high on Mesić’s list of priorities: already same year Croatia got extradited former commander of Jasenovac concentration camp Dinko Šakić from Argentina; after trial he was sentenced on twenty years in prison. President Mesić visited Israel in 2001 and apologized for the Croatian part in the Holocaust in his speech in the Knesset; it was followed by Tommy Lapid’s harsh answer in the Serbo-Croatian. However, Israel made large investments in agriculture and food production in plains of Slavonija in northern Croatia, and Croatian government began with the Holocaust education in the schools. In 2003 President Moshe Katz’av visited Croatia and Jasenovac and it seemed that wounds begin to heal.


3.1. The Individual States 1. Croatia On Thursday September 8, 2005 Israel's first ambassador to Croatia, Shmuel Meirom presented his credentials to Croatian president Mesić in Zagreb, being in that way the second Israeli ambassador situated in region. Mesić asked Meirom to “give confidence to us, who speak for democratic Croatia, founded on a legacy of antifascism” but couldn’t hide that opposite attitudes exist in Croatia.[59] Israeli and Jewish world media always notice that the annual memorial day in Bleiburg where Ustaši were executed by the Partisans in 1945 attracts tens of thousands of people, while Jasenovac commemoration ceremony gather maybe few hundreds and that a folk-singer nicknamed Thompson sings songs of praise to Jasenovac murderers for public on full stadiums, while main military polygon of Croatian army is named “Eugen Kvaternik” reminiscing the chief of all Ustashi police formations from the Second World War.[60]

However, Israeli guests are among top visitors of Croatian seaside resorts, and there is cooperation in the military industry as well. Israel have the interest in having the good relationship with the new member of Security Council and newly invited member of NATO who might contribute troops to the UN peacekeepers on unstable Syrian border. The Croatian interest is to gain recognition from Israel as being the state based on the Anti-Fascist heritage but the recognizing and condemning crimes of the NDH against the Jews without pointing who was the main NDH victim in Israel can be pursued only by the those who shows the excited support for Croatia, as it is Ha’aretz journalist Dalia Shory.

2. Slovenia had a rocky road on her path towards serious deals with Israeli military industry, following its negotiations with the NATO. The NATO was against the armored units in Slovenian army but Slovenia wanted them as sign of the local prestige. Therefore, upgrading of the battalion of the Slovenian T-55s (another battalion is armed with Yugoslavian M-84s) was finally done by Israelis – but only when it was decided that upgraded tanks will stay in reserve.

3. FYR Macedonia is doing similar efforts to Croatia to commemorate its Jewish community that perished mostly in the beginning of 1943: the building of the Holocaust Museum in its capital Skopje started in September 2005. Macedonia is only former Yugoslavian country by now without embassy in Israel and Jerusalem-based Israeli ambassador is covering Macedonia together with other two countries in the region with significant Muslim population, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

4. Only recently established as an independent state, Montenegro does not seem to be much interested neither in Israel, nor in any matter concerning the Jews. Without important Jewish heritage – except possible grave of Sabbetai Zvi in Ulcinj – and any living Jewish community, Montenegro is one of the rare European countries without marked Holocaust Day and no practical Holocaust education.

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina is specific case, and it relationship with Israel reflects its own deep schizophrenic structure and being, following rift between its two parts, the Republic of Srpska and Muslim-Croat Federation.[61] In a profound way, that rift is also reflected in relationships with the State of Israel and the Jews in general. The latter Bosnian entity inherited all the patterns of Tito’s Yugoslavia concerning the “Palestinian question” and added also the new Islamist envy against Israel following Iranian and wahabbi influence; on the other hand its pro-American orientation obliged it to be open for Israel, although Israeli citizens were subjected to harsh visa regime until only recently.

On the other hand, the Republic of Srpska tried to employ the full rhetoric of the First World War Serbia, including its openness for Israel, reinforced by common suffering in the Second World War, especially in Jasenovac. Justified or not, “the Massada Complex”, is also very strong mutual bond. The Republic of Srpska needed more space in is relation with Israel and opened its own commercial representative office in Jerusalem. Its activity very soon overcame pure economical matters: the visit of President of Srpska Dragan Čavić, including his lecture at the Hebrew University, the 60 years anniversary of liberation of Jasenovac concentration camp and dedication of Jasenovac monument in Banja Luka were manifestations of openness for Israel and the Jews in general.

However, once glorious Bosnian Jewish community after the Holocaust and the Balkan Wars in nineties exists only in remnants and issue of restitution (great part of old Sarajevo belonged to its Jews) is still not solved on both sides. There is no doubt that it will be important issue in mutual relations.     

5. Serbia, as it was already depicted, is a subject of much more emotions than other former Yugoslavian entities. It was very visible when the news about the atrocities in Bosnia came to Israel but also it is visible today concerning anti-Semitism in Serbia. Although it is a superficial phenomenon imported recently from the global аnti-Semitic network, finding its raison d’etre in the role of the American Jews in Clinton administration in the Balkan conflict,[62] it attracts attention not proportional to its significance.[63] The reasons for this are twofold: first, without deeper contact between the Israeli and Serbian intellectual elite for decades and with the prevailing influence of the global media in Israel in nineties, Serbia gained somehow threatening image; second, the Israelis are not very well acquitted with inner effects caused by communism in Yugoslavia in particular since Yugoslavia was much more complicated society than the rest of the Communist bloc - and the war in former Yugoslavia was a post-communist war in the first instance, a war of the peoples with destroyed morality. The process of rebuilding of morality and values is complex and long – as the Israelis saw at least in the case of their own immigrants from the former USSR.

But, especially after the democratic changes in Serbia in October 2000, relations between the two countries are in ascent in all fields: culture, the Holocaust research, economy etc. After September 11 the intelligence cooperation went deeper with Israeli knowledge of Serbia’s importance for European security: Serbians with Americans are most regularly participants on conferences held by the Interdisciplinary Center for Terrorism Research in Herzliya.[64] On the other hand, possible big military projects are still on hold in spite of very cordial relationship and cooperation between two armies, and it is not impossible that still existing – although not anymore official - ties of people from the Serbian military industry with countries interested in Israeli matters are playing part in it.[65]

3.2. In July 2001, Gerstenfeld wrote, “no Israeli diplomat should be sent abroad without good knowledge of the literature on the Yugoslav war, which contains a practically unlimited amount of useful information for presenting Israel’s case.”[66] Only two months later, after the five Bosnian citizens struck into the World Trade Center in New York, this sentence gained a completely new meaning.

While Sharon’s threat that independent Kosovo will become hotbed of Islamic terrorism is still pushed within a prophetic realm, the Israeli public at the moment is more afraid of creating possible precedent that will affect integrity of the state even within the Green Line. And it is not only conservative and probed Israeli friend, former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton who is warning but also leftist Ha’aretz where Israel Harel wrote just few days after Kosovo proclaimed independence: “The day may not be far off when the Arabs of Galilee start clamoring for independence, too.”[67] In this way the Balkans became Israeli internal issue and not one of a limited importance: probably there is no better example of Israel’s complex relation with its key ally, the US, than Kosovo, where macabre perspective of losing Galilee could be the price for American grace.    

The relationship between the State of Israel and the countries that emerged after the dissolving of Yugoslavia happened to develop within the frame of two spectacular events of the world history: end of communism and rise of the global terrorism. In the course of time, all the sides had to rebuild their identity and find their souls in radically changed world in which even political values in one moment lost their race with the economical sphere.

It happened also, that - in different extent - in some aspects and in some cases Israel and the countries of former Yugoslavia defined its identity through a mutual relationship. At least Serbia and Israel shared much of world attention during this time and - in this one have to agree with James Ron – they could be a rigorous mirror and offer serious judgment of the personality of newly globalized world. By that fact they are also pushed in specific relationship, which dynamism will be probably extraordinary interesting not only for the future historians.

Јован Ћулибрк

Држава Израел и њени односи са државама-наследницама бивше Југославије током Балканског конфликта деведесетих и након њега


Држава Израел се почетком деведесетих нашла у врло сложеној ситуацији када је почео распад СФРЈ: тек што је држава која је била тврди заступник арапске ствари у свету омекшала свој став према Израелу и са њим успоставила дипломатске односе, она је почела да се распада. Израелска дипломатија и јавност нашли су пред потребом да се одреде не само према низу нових држава које су настајале једна за другом него и према серији ратова у којој је кључни израелски савезник, САД, имао значајну а од 1993. године и пресудну улогу.

Израел је имао прагматичан али и самосталан приступ који је захтевао озбиљнији увид у ситуацију на терену али често и размирице са дипломатијом САД, која у веме Клинтонове администрације често није имала разумевања за историјске и безбедоносне разлоге који су Израел водили другачијим ставовима према Балканској кризи од оних које су заузимале САД. Са друге стране, у самом Израелу Балкан је постао предметом унутрашње полемике у којој се, што је необично за Израел, ставови нису заузимали по партијској припадности, и одражавали су дубље поделе у самом израелском друштву, нарочито по питању улоге историје у идентитету јеврејске државе. Питање Балкана постало је један од историјских примера у коме је понашање Израела и америчке јеврејске заједнице било скоро дијаметрално супротно. 

Ти ставови су достигли највећу супротност у време косовске кризе 1999. године када је Ариел Шарон као министар спољних послова отворено критиковао америчку интервенцију на албанској страни, док су израелски медији у једном тренутку подлегли поређењу албанског страдања са холокаустом, које је изричито прихватила и протежирала америчка јеврејска заједница. Та полемика се разбуктала поново 2008. године у питању независности Косова коју већи део израелске јавности сматра преседаном који би могао да има директне последице по безбедност и територијални интегритет Израела, нарочито у Галилеји у којој израелски Арапи чине већину. У сваком случају, Израел на Блиском Истоку и простор бивше Југославије представљају два краја региона у којима се могу пратити исти или слични процеси и повлачити јасне и употребљиве историјске паралеле, као и разлике.

* This text was originally written for the needs of a course held by Dr. Simon Epstein at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; it was published in the journal of the Institute for Contemporary History in Belgrade Istorija 20. veka (1/2008, pp. 155) in the form as it was presented to the University. This is reworked version of the same text. 

1 Milan Koljanin, Druga misija dr Davida Albale u Sjedinjenim Američkim Državama 1939-1942 [The Second Mission of Dr. David Albala in the United States of America 1939-1942], Zbornik jevrejskog istorijskog muzeja, 8/2003, p. 9; Paulina Albala, Dr David Albala kao jevrejski nacionalni radnik [Dr. David Albala as the Jewish National Activist], Jevrejski almanah, 1957-58, pp. 97-98. The letter is today in the National and University Library in Jerusalem.

2 Milan Koljanin, Druga misija dr Davida Albale u Sjedinjenim Američkim Državama 1939-1942, op. cit. p. 10

3 Harriet Pass Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1979, p. 180

4 מנחם שלח, יוגוסלביה, [Menachem Shelach, Yugoslavia] Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 1

5 Harriet Pass Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, op. cit. 179

6 “The impression was formed that the discriminatory laws were passed under heavy external pressure, due to the Nazi-Fascist siege which began to take shape following Germany's seizure of most of Europe. In fact, not only was there no organized incitement in connection with these decrees, but spontaneous demonstrations were actually held to protest them.” מנחם שלח, יוגוסלביה, op. cit. 35

7 Harald Turner, chief of the military administration in Serbia, preceded any given order for the Final Solution in his letter to Hildebrandt from October 17 1941: “the Jews we have in camps, after all they too are Serb nationals, and besides they have to disappear” (quoted from Christopher R. Browning, The Path to Genocide, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 135).

8 Vasa Kazimirović, NDH u svetlu nemačkih dokumenata i dnevnika Gleza fon Horstenau [Independent State of Croatia in the Light of the German Documents and the Diary of Glaise von Horstenau], Nova knjiga-Narodna knjiga, Beograd, 1987, p. 107

[9] Noted by Yossef Levinger who wrote part about Jewish participation in resistance for Shelach’s synthesis. מנחם שלח, יוגוסלביה, op. cit. p. 430

[10] For example Mihailović’s order from April 7, 1944, AVII, :A, 33-1-2 and 66-2-36. The USA did not severe its ties with Mihailović until very late, and his actions in saving hundreds of downed allied pilots brought him high decoration from president Truman.

[11] Harriet Pass Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, op. cit. 192

[12] Vladimir Petrović, Jugoslavija stupa na Bliski Istok – Stvaranje jugoslovenske bliskoistočne politike 1946-1956 [Yugoslavia Steps Into the Middle East – The Emergence of Yugoslav Middle East Policy 1946-1956], Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd, 2007

[13] Harriet Pass Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, op. cit.193

[14] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 32, Number 4, October 1996, p. 298. Yugoslavian contingent was among the largest in UNEF troops on Sinai, and the first to allow to Egyptians to remilitarize Sinai on the eve of the Six Day War (Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War, Penguin, London, 2003, p. 70).

[15] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 299

[16] Ibid. 300. Aleksandar Lebl published detailed article on the break-up: Prekid diplomtskih odnosa SFRJ-Izrael 1967. godine [Break of SFRY-Israel Diplomatic Relations in 1967] in Tokovi istorije 1-4/2001, pp. 39-75 

[17] Harriet Pass Freidenreich, The Jews of Yugoslavia: A Quest for Community, op. cit. 209

[18] Jerusalem Post, 15 July 1987. Quoted from Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 301

[19] Paul Benjamin Gordiejew, Voices of Yugoslav Jewry, State University of New York Press, New York, 1999, p. 378

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid. 302

[22] FBIS. Daily Report, Eastern Europe; quoted from Paul Benjamin Gordiejew, Voices of Yugoslav Jewry, op. cit 379. The same book of Gordiejew offers a short study on Case of the Society for Serbian-Jewish Friendship on pages 389-396.  

[23] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 302. It was opinion of David Kimche, former director-general of Foreign Ministry. Same year Ariel Sharon visited Belgrade in order to negotiate building arrangements for USSR newcomers with Yugoslavian companies, same as then-Knesset Speaker Dov Shillansky.

[24] Ibid. 303

[25] Ibid.

[26] “I have boundless admiration for the Jewish people, its strength and struggle for independence and freedom, equal to that of the Croat people.” The letter is quoted from book of Dr. Milan Bulajić, Jasenovac – Jewish Serbian Holocaust (The Role of the Vatican) in Nazi-Ustasha Croatia (1941-1945), Fund for Genocide Research-Stručna knjiga, Belgrade, 2002, p. 390. Although book is useful, its title is an example of another effort to drag Jewish public to someone’s interest, this time Serbian. Gordijew is not in favor of such comparisons but he gave some basic facts about Kosovo, the Serbian Zion in Voices of Yugoslav Jewry, pages 387-389.  

[27] Israel and Genocide in Croatia is published in Stjepan G. Meštrović (ed.), Genocide After Emotion, Routledge, London and New York, 1996, pp. 195-206 (Except editors’ part book generally has not been accepted as reliable in scientific circles). Israel and the War in Balkans is reworked version from 1999, to our knowledge only posted on Internet,   

[28] Igor Primoratz, Israel and Genocide in Croatia, op. cit. 199

[29] Ibid. 204

[30] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 303

[31] More about the unit in George Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division, 1943-1945, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997. This division had two sister-divisions, 23rd SS Division “Skenderbeg” made mainly of Kosovo Albanians and never fully raised 21st SS “Kama”, also staffed by Bosnians.

[32] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 303. The Islamic Declaration was republished in English immediately after Izetbegović got the post of the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina – in agreement with the Serbian Democratic Party.

[33] Efraim Halevy, Man in the Shadows, Phoenix, London, 2007, pp. 55-57.

[34] Robert Baer, See No Evil, Crown Publishers, New York, 2002, p. 256. Same source states that Tony Lake had to withdraw his candidature as CIA director because the Agency was against his nomination for this reason. Baer was in 1996 in Bosnia following traces of Iran intelligence, but it was too late to prevent the damage: it was from established cell in “hamlet of Bakotić, 8 km outside Maglaj”, that Mohamed Atta went for Hamburg in “his ultimate mission – to destroy the Twin Towers” (Gregory Copley, Dejan Miletić, Darko Trifunović, Terrorism Global Network of Islamic Fundamentalist’s – Part II – Modus operandi – Model Bosnia, The Republic Secretariat for Relations with the ICTY, Banja Luka, 2004, p. 23).

[35] Marie Arana, Elie Wiesel: A Debt to Memory, Washington Post, Sunday, August 14, 2005, p. BW10. “President Clinton claimed that a single force changed the course of American policy. That force was Elie Wiesel.” All this happened on the very day of liberation of Jasenovac (April 22 1945); and Wiesel visited Bosnia asked by the President of Yugoslavia, writer Dobrica Ćosić. Finally, 1993 was year of almost complete inactivity of the Serbian forces since Croat-Muslim war was in full swing. 

[36] Quoted from Igor Primoratz, Israel and the War in Balkans, op. cit.

[37] Sir Michael Rose’s Fighting for Peace or lectures, interviews and statements at ICTY of the Canadian general Louis MacKenzie.

[38] Published in Vardy, Steven Bela, and T. Hunt Tooley, eds., Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. Foreword by Otto von Habsburg. Associate editor, Agnes Huszar Vardy. Social Science Monographs, Boulder CO, 2003

[39] Igor Primoratz, Israel and the War in Balkans, op. cit.

[40] James Ron, Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel, University of California Press, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, 2003, p. xiii

[41] Ibid. 3. He later admitted that “both were prone to ethnocentrism, partly as a result of World War II traumas” (ibid.) which was sometimes denied to Serbs, for example by David MacDonald, Globalizing the Holocaust: A Jewish ‘useable past’ in Serbian Nationalism, Portal Journal of International Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol. 2 No 2, July 2005, pp. 1-31.

[42] In fact, the six Serbian airplanes J-2 “Hawk” and two J-22 “Eagle” were dispatched from Udbina airport to bomb Bosnian Muslim ammunition factory in Novi Travnik. Two J-22 couldn’t reach Novi Travnik and bombed similar installation in nearby Bugojno instead, but they were identified as the Croatian MiG-21s, and that’s how started a story about a joint Serbian-Croat operation – which was especially sensitive because at the same time Croatians and Muslims in Washington were sitting on peace conference which ended tomorrow on March 1, with creation of the Croat-Muslim Federation in Bosnia.  

[43] Igor Primoratz, Israel and the War in Balkans, op. cit.

[44] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 303. But the operators of 63rd Airborne Brigade of the Yugoslavian Army seized on September 1, 1991, on Zagreb airport an airplane full not with original Israeli Galil machine guns but with Galil’s South Africa-made replica called R4.

[45] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 304. Book of Dobrila Gajić-Glišić Iz kabineta ministra vojnog: Srpska vojska [From the Defense Minister’s Office: the Serbian Army], Marica i Tomo Spasojević, Čačak, 1992 contains some evidence about Yugoslavian contacts with Israeli military industry.

[46] Igor Primoratz, Israel and the War in Balkans, op. cit.

[47] Jacob Abadi, Israel and the Balkan States, op. cit. 304

[48] Manfred Gerstenfeld, Srebrenica: the Dutch Sabra and Shatilla, Jerusalem Viewpoints No 458, 24 Tammuz 5761/15 July 2001, pp. 1-10. Concerning aforementioned military reports from former Yugoslavia, Gerstenfeld gave important quote from correspondent of London Independent, Robert Fisk: “Although never formally acknowledged, reports from European Community [ECMM] monitors in Krajina were altered, truncated and sometimes censored out of existence during Germany’s presidency of the European Union. When ECMM recorded unfavourable to the Croats or favourable to the Serbs, these paragraphs were simply deleted by the Germans.” (p. 4)

[49] For example: 1. Račak massacre that triggered intervention was later dismissed as fake by Helena Ranta, Danish forensic who was sent by UN to investigate the case 2. Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, proclaimed 100,000 casualities at one moment only on Albanian side – but until today approximately 5,000 bodies has been found of both Serbian and Albanian dead.

[50] Nitzan Horowitz, Israel in Peter Goff (ed.), The Kosovo News and Propaganda War, International Press Institute, Vienna, 1999, p. 292

[51] Ibid. 293

[52] Wesley K. Clark, Waging Modern War, PublicAffairs, New York, 2001. The Spanish pilot who participated in air operations against Yugoslavia, captain Adolfo Luis Martin de la Hoz witnessed in Spanish weekly Articulo No 20, June 14, 1999 (Jose Luis Morales, Spanish Fighter Pilots Admit NATO Purposely Attacks Civilian Targets): “There is no journalist who has the slightest idea what is happening in Yugoslavia. They are destroying the country, bombing it with new weapons, toxic nerve gases, surface mines dropped by parachute, bombs containing uranium, napalm, sterilization chemicals, sprayings to poison the crops and weapons of which even we still do not know anything (...) Several times our colonel protested to NATO chiefs as to why they select targets which are not military targets. They threw him out with curses, saying that we should know that the North Americans would lodge a complaint to the Spanish Army, once through Brussels and again to the Defence Minister.”

[53] Nitzan Horowitz, Israel, op. cit. 295

[54] Ibid. 295-296

[55] Ibid. 296

[56] Ibid. 294

[57] Ibid. 295

[58] And Yugoslavian Army did it well: in 78 days of bombing, only handful of the Yugoslavian tanks and APC’s were destroyed, opposite to heavily damaged country’s infrastructure; Army did not agreed with Milošević’s decision to surrender. Also, it is more than clear now that the crimes were done mostly by paramilitaries and police, not by the army. Albanian population began to move in large numbers only when NATO attacks started. For our subject is interesting that among the Russian volunteers in the Serbian forces in Kosovo War (same as in the Bosnian War) an important number were the Russian-Israeli Jews, usually veterans from Afghanistan and Chechnya. “We were welcomed as very few welcome Jews. Not even Russians were as welcomed there as we were,” said one of them ( In the same interview one can find report how Kosovo Jews escaped from Kosovo after Albanians and NATO seized Priština.

[59] First Israeli ambassador to Croatia takes office in Zagreb,, Thursday, September 08, 2005 Elul 4, 5765

[60] Entry Kvaternik Eugen – Dido in Marko Ručnov, Zašto Jasenovac [Why Jasenovac], IKP “Nikola Pašić, Beograd, 2001, pp. 399-402. The polygon officially bear name of older Eugen Kvaternik, which role in history is almost unknown.

[61] Two sides were forced by US diplomacy to stay together on peace conference in Air Base Wright-Patterson in Dayton Ohio in November 1995; consequently, peace agreement is called Dayton Accord. Richard Holbrooke mediated the negotiations in blunt way and he himself gave amazingly open record of this process in book To End a War, Random House, New York, 1999.

[62] See for example Daniel Kurtzman, Jews back Kosovo attack, citing Holocaust, JTA, Friday, April 2, 1999,

[63] Two booklets published by the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism are dealing with Yugoslavia/Serbia while no one is dedicated to the rest of former Yugoslavian states.

[64] Europeans themselves was not so aware of Serbia’s importance until the main suspect for Madrid bombing, Moroccan-born Abdelmajid Bouchar, was recently arrested on the very day when he entered Serbia after more than a year of hiding throughout Europe.

[65] This aspect have its other side: since Serbia was the main builder of the Iraqi VIP constructions, it is still unknown to which level Serbia cooperated with the US in the Second Gulf War, but it seems that some American actions were done successfully because Serbia delivered in sotto voce plans of buildings erected by Yugoslavian companies. On the other hand during Milošević’s time and partly due to UN sanctions, some half-private deals, usually by Milošević’s aides, were done with Iraq.  

[66] Manfred Gerstenfeld, Srebrenica: the Dutch Sabra and Shatilla, op. cit. 9

[67] Israel Harel, Kosovo is Already Here, in Ha’aretz February 21, 2008,

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