As hundreds of people gathered before Toronto’s stately Ontario parliament buildings earlier this month to remember those killed by the Nazis, a speaker from New York drew a taut connection between the Jewish people’s history and the situation in the former Yugoslavia.
Then he led the crowd in a chant.
Serbska! Judea! Serbska! Judea!
Serbska is the name Bosnian Serbs use for the territory they have conquered in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in brazen defiance of world opinion but in the face of little actual resistance from the United Nations or NATO.
Judea is the name of the state that Rabbi Meir Kahane and his followers dreamed of as the ultimate Balkanization of the Middle East: a Jewish state which lays claims to any part of the Land of Israel that might be abandoned by the State of Israel.
This display of affinity between an outlaw state and a supporter of a would-be outlaw state took place April 10, as Kahane Chai leader Michael Guzofsky addresed the annual Holocaust commemoration of the Canadian-Serbian Council.
Guzofsky’s support for the Serb side of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia is at odds with the position taken by virtually all American Jewish groups. Most of those groups have been in the forefront of the struggle for forceful American action on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims.
They see a clear parallel between the fate suffered by Jews during the Holocaust, and that being suffered now as the Serbs perpetrate “ethnic cleansing” on Muslim Bosnian villages.
At the same time, there has been an almost subterranean undercurrent of feeling within the Jewish community in the opposite direction.
Manifested in letters to the editors of Jewish newspapers rather than in policy statements by Jewish leaders, this pro-Serbian argument makes a different appeal to Jewish history and memory, to “the affinity Jews and Serbs shared under tremendous persecution,” in the words of Michael Lublin.
Lublin, who is Jewish, arranged for Guzofsky to address the Canadian-Serbian Council’s Holocaust commemoration. He said he was an aide for the Serbian side during peace talks at the United Nations last year. He is quick to recite a history of the present conflict under which the Serbs have been the innocent victims, suffering at the hands of a cruel and unfair world community.
But the history underlying the Jewish case for the Serbs is not under dispute: During the Holocaust, a Croatian state killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, even as it oversaw the annihilation of most of the country’s 80,000 Jews.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was incorporated into the Croatian state, Muslims were particularly hostile to the Jews, egged on by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the ex-mufti of Jerusalem.
Not that the Jews fared better in Serbia. By August 1942, Germans were able to report that all the Jews had been killed. But, argue Serbs today, Serbia was under direct German military occupation, which killed thousands of resisting Serbs.
Serbs explain their present battle as based on the history of 50 years ago.
“Serbs are motivated by the slogan, `never again.’ They have the same concerns about living under Muslims and what appears to be a neo-fascist regime in Zagreb,” said Nick Tintor, president of the Canadian-Serbian Council, which sponsored the Holocaust vigil.
Henry Siegman, who just stepped down from heading the American Jewish Congress, a Jewish group strongly making the case for American intervention on behalf of the Bosnians, does not deny the history.
But he said that allowing old alliances to determine present policy is “absolutely sick thinking.”
Said Siegman: “The question isn’t who was whose allies 50 years ago, but what are these people doing today. The argument that we should support people who are planning genocide and ethnic cleansing because 50 years ago they were fighting the Nazis, is such an immoral argument that even to answer it is to dignify it.”
For the late Kahane and his followers, however, policy has always flown from particularist history and memory, not universal ethics.
“The Jewish organizations have betrayed the Jewish community worldwide by going against the Serbs for the Croats and Bosnians, some of whom are descendants of war criminals of 50 years ago,” said Lublin.
In his speech, Guzofsky spoke about the high regard he had for the Republic of Serbska, and how he saw it as an inspiration for his state of Judea.
“Mike and I believe the key to the survival of Israel is a self-declared state of Judea which will have the right to take up arms and protect security,” said Lublin.
“The key is to model it after Republic of Serbska. You and I both know, even though they’re hated, they’re going to have their land when the war is done. The key is survival, whether you’re loved or hated.”