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Yugoslav Immigrants in Israel Divided over Bosnian Refugees

Israel’s absorption of 83 Moslem refugees from war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina has stirred up debate among Israelis originally from the various former republics of Yugoslavia.

Jews from Serbian regions have pointed to the Croatian government’s behavior during World War II to make their case that the Serbs treated Jews better than the Bosnians and Croatians. They feel the current conflict has unfairly maligned the reputation of the Serbian people.

Jews from Bosnia have countered by making similar statements against Serbian treatment of Jews.

Rabbi Zvi Azariya, chairman of the Association of Jewish Warriors in Yugoslavia, has said that Israel’s decision to absorb only Bosnian refugees is an affront.

In taking that action, Azariya told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israeli government failed to recognize the fact that the Croatian-Bosnian government collaborated with the Nazi occupation army and was directly responsible for the extermination of Yugoslav Jews in World War II.

“We Jews are known as merciful,” said Azariya, “and therefore one cannot come out against the absorption of Bosnians who were rescued from the present chaos in former Yugoslavia. However, Israel should have at least absorbed an equal number of Serb refugees,” he said.

Azariya, who served as an officer in the Yugoslav army during World War II, charged that the local Croatian-Bosnian government helped round up the Jews of Bosnia and Croatia and transport them to the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia, where many were murdered.

But Shlomit Lussic, a Bosnian Jew who is a member of the Association of Yugoslav Immigrants in Israel, told JTA she was highly offended by such comments.

Lussic said that Azariya and other pro-Serbian voices are ignoring the fact that some of the Bosnians absorbed in Israel were virtually rescued out of concentration camps operated by the Serbs.

Furthermore, Lussic said that just as evidence existed regarding Bosnian and Croatian collaboration with the Nazis, there was similar evidence of Serbs who had done the same.

Lussic warned that bickering and accusations among the different factions in the Yugoslav Jewish community in Israel would ruin the positive effect of Israel’s humanitarian act.

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