WASHINGTON (Jan. 6)
Five American Jewish groups have joined with American Arab, Moslem and Christian groups in a statement urging President Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton to “take whatever steps necessary” to save the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Many Jewish groups, seeing parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and the “ethnic cleansing” inflicted upon Bosnian Moslems by Serbs, have been active in recent months in urging stronger U.S. action to help the Bosnian people.
Jewish leaders said that while such joint Jewish-Arab-Moslem cooperation was not unprecedented, it was unusual.
“It is not unrelated to the situation in Bosnia,” said Andrew Baker, director of European affairs for the American Jewish Committee, one of the groups signing the statement, which was released at a news conference Wednesday.
Baker said that in the past few months there has been “a lot of back and forth” among the various groups to try to “join forces on this issue.”
Mark Pelavin, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress, another organization signing the statement, said that part of the importance of Wednesday’s joint news conference was that “we were putting aside our differences to work together.”
The coalition of 10 groups called on the U.S. government to “provide for the defense of the people of Bosnia,” either by direct military action or by lifting the arms embargo.
In addition, the groups called for enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia, for a recognition of “ethnic cleansing” as genocide and for admission into the United States of a least 25,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia, under emergency provisions of the U.S. Refugee Act.
Jason Isaacson, one of the organizers of the news conference, said the experience was “heartening and fascinating.”
In over one hour, he said, “the words ‘the Middle East’ never came up, and maybe that’s unprecedented.”
Isaacson, who is director of government and international affairs at AJCommittee, said there would be follow-up meetings among the groups joining in the statement.
‘PLENTY OF ISSUES’ IN COMMON
Pelavin of AJCongress said his group had worked in the past with the National Association of Arab Americans. The two groups recently put out a joint statement on the importance of the peace process, he said.
Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans, also cited the joint briefing with the AJCongress as “heralding a new spirit of identifying areas of common concern.”
Arab and Jewish groups had worked together “sporadically” on domestic issues, Jahshan said, but until recently, there had been “no systematic effort” to join together on issues of foreign policy.
Wednesday’s news conference, he said, is the second such event.
“We welcome it,” Jahshan said. “Despite different perspectives on the Arab-Israeli conflict, there are plenty of issues we can work on to advance.”
In addition, Pelavin said, AJCongress has worked with the American Muslim Council on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation supported by a coalition of religious groups. The bill would make it harder for the government to encroach upon religious practices.
Wednesday’s statement followed a Dec. 22 rally in Washington staged by a coalition of 24 Jewish groups to push for stronger U.S. action on Bosnia.
Jewish women’s groups staged a rally the same day in New York to protest the mass rape and sexual abuse of thousands of women in the former Yugoslav republic.
The groups signing Wednesday’s statement included the Albanian American Civic League, AJCommittee, AJCongress, American Muslim Council, American Task Force for Bosnia, Americans for Freedom in Former Yugoslavia, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, National Association of Arab Americans and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.