Menu JTA Search

Israel Recognizes Independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Taking its cue once again from Washington, Israel announced Wednesday that it was extending diplomatic recognition to the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The statement proffering recognition was made by Foreign Minister David Levy, who spoke to reporters after meeting with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis.

Levy said Israel’s decision followed specific requests from the Baltic states. He said Israel would consider establishing diplomatic relations with the three republics at an appropriate time in the future.

The Israeli foreign minister praised the three republics for their long and determined fight for democracy and freedom from the Soviet Union, whose rule they had never accepted since they were annexed in 1940.

He also said pointedly that Israel is sure that “the memory of the Holocaust will never be forgotten from their hearts.”

His comment was a response to calls from groups of Israeli immigrants from the Baltics to withhold recognition of their independence until they publicly asked the Jewish people’s forgiveness for their behavior during the Holocaust.

There were many instances of collaboration with the Nazis and even independent persecution of Jews in those lands during World War II.

Both Vilna and Riga had brutal Jewish ghettos, from which the Jews were transported to their deaths. Concentration camps in Estonia were also sites of mass killings.

In recent years, however, Baltic independence movements have made alliances with Jewish groups and supported calls by Soviet Jews for emigration and cultural and religious freedom.

Diplomatic sources said Israel had made it clear all along that it would follow Washington’s lead on the timing of recognition. Jerusalem did the same in lifting economic sanctions against South Africa this summer.

President Bush announced Washington’s recognition of the Baltics’ independence Monday, in a news conference at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

NEXT STORY