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Jewish Groups Welcome U.S. Plan for Bosnia

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Jewish groups, many of whom have been active in pushing for stronger U.S. action to help the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, welcomed the new U.S. initiative to try to stop the fighting in the former Yugoslav republic.

The long-awaited Clinton administration plan, announced Wednesday, includes steps advocated by Jewish groups in past months, such as enforcement of a U.N.-imposed no-fly zone over Bosnia, creation of a war-crimes tribunal at the United Nations and the possible use of U.S. military power to enforce a future agreement.

However, some in the Jewish community continued to stress their concerns about the ongoing killing and rape in Bosnia, and the need for decisive U.S. action to end the human suffering.

Many Jews see parallels between the Nazi Holocaust, and the suffering of Bosnian Moslems under Serbian “ethnic cleansing” policies.

In recent months, Jewish organizations, often working in broad-based coalitions with Moslem, Christian and women’s groups, have held news conferences and rallies and sent letters to U.S. officials in a concerted effort to draw attention to conditions in the former Yugoslavia.

Just this past Monday, a broad-based coalition of groups headed by the American Jewish Congress delivered a letter to Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, urging full funding of a U.N. commission to document war crimes, including rape, in Bosnia.

The coalition, consisting of about 40 religious, women’s, ethnic, and relief groups, pushed for Albright to “work with the United Nations to document and prosecute, under an international war crimes tribunal, cases of rape as a tactic of warfare” in the former Yugoslavia.

The members of the coalition wrote that they were “united in their horror at the reports of systematic rape and forced impregnation of women and girls, and we call in a single voice for immediate action to prosecute those responsible for these crimes against humanity.”

The coalition noted in its letter that a commission to document war crimes has been established, but has yet to be funded.

Information from that commission could then be used as evidence in war crimes trials.

The letter also expressed the groups’ concern that no women serve on the commission.

“We are concerned that without female representation on the commission, rape as a war crime with unique consequences may not be given proper consideration,” the letter said.

Jewish groups responded positively for the most part to the new U.S. initiative, announced at the State Department by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and expressed their hopes that the plan would boost U.S. involvement in resolving the Bosnian crisis.

“The combination of diplomatic, economic, and, if necessary, military means to end this bloodshed holds out the promise of progress toward a solution in this crisis,” American Jewish Congress President Robert Lifton said in a statement. AJCongress is among the groups that have been active on the Bosnia issue in recent months.

“I’m encouraged by the prospect that the U.S. could be moving in the direction of contributing to the enforcement of a peace plan,” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international relations for the American Jewish Committee, another group that has called for tougher U.S. action.

“I hope today’s announcement signals an American commitment to move in a more constructive direction,” Isaacson added.

CONCERN OVER DELAY IN ‘TOUGH STEPS’

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he had a “mixed read” on the plan.

On the one hand, he said, the plan is a “major step in the right direction. The president laid the moral and strategic foundation for U.S. involvement in halting the killing.”

But on the other hand, Saperstein was critical of the plan’s “delays in taking some tough steps to save human lives,” such as the use of force in securing civilian areas, until the negotiations proceed further.

Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said he was “delighted” by the call for a war crimes tribunal.

Bayer said he hoped that “mass rapings would be included as a war crime,” and that “an instrument would be created to bring these people to justice.”

He added that Bosnia would be an issue at NJCRAC’s annual plenum, to take place next week in Washington.

Because of Presidents’ Day, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published Monday, Feb. 15.

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