Jewish Groups Praise Dole on Bosnian Arms Initiative

As a shaky cease-fire takes hold in Bosnia, Jewish groups are praising an effort in Congress to lift the arms embargo on the Muslim nation by this spring.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) introduced legislation on the first day of the new Congress last week, calling for an end to the arms embargo if the Bosnian government asks for weapons or by May 1, whichever comes first.

Dole then put the bill on the back burner saying he will not seek an immediate vote.

Despite many Jewish activists’ general concerns over the new Republican Congress, most praised Dole’s bill, one of the first pieces of legislation unveiled by the new leadership.

Jewish groups have been pressing for stronger U.S. action in Bosnia ever since the war broke out in the former Yugoslav republic. In particular, Jewish organizations repeatedly called on the United States and the United Nations to lift the arms embargo.

Most Jewish groups continue to support lifting the arms embargo, but for some, the cease-fire has changed the playing field.

Former President Jimmy Carter last month negotiated the latest of a series of attempts to bring an end to the bloody carnage in Bosnia. The three-week old cease-fire has held with few exceptions, activists said.

The American Jewish Congress took the strongest stand among Jewish groups. It went a step further even than Dole in support of the lifting of the arms embargo regardless of the cease-fire.

Arguing that the Bosnian Muslims cannot defend themselves against the Serbs, Mark Pelavin, AJCongress’s Washington representative said, “It’s time to get serious about lifting the embargo.”

At every stage of the game, others have argued not to lift the arms embargo and at every stage of the game, the war goes on,” he said.

B’nai B’rith, meanwhile, holds little hope that the cease-fire will hold, but the group is supporting Dole’s measure.

“The Serbs are factoring the cease-fire into their military designs,” said George Spectre, associate director for international, governmental and Israel affairs for B’nai B’rith. “The cease-fire is a moot point because during the winter they generally don’t fight anyway.”

Others are taking a more cautious approach.

“We are yielding to the cease-fire,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.

Lifting the embargo now “could jeopardize the cease-fire. We need to balance out the risks,” he said.

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