When President Clinton asks members of Congress to support sending 20,000 U.S. troops to enforce a peace agreement in Bosnia, he will have overwhelming support from the organized Jewish community.
“As Jews we have a special responsibility and cannot be absent from this next chapter,” said Hyman Bookbinder, a longtime Jewish communal activist who is a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council’s Committee on Conscience.
“If we ever meant the words `never again,’ we need to back the president.”
Clinton announced a settlement between the warring parties in the former Yugoslavia in an address Tuesday from the White House Rose Garden.
The settlement comes 3 1/2 years after the outbreak of war in the Balkans and after 21 days of marathon negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, between leaders from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
“Now that the parties to the war have made a serious commitment to peace, we must help them to make it work,” Clinton said.
Throughout the fighting in Bosnia, many Jewish groups were outspoken about the need for some form of American intervention. The call became particularly urgent in the face of mounting evidence of genocide and ethnic cleaning, which many Jews found reminiscent of the Holocaust.
That effort is now continuing among most – though not all – Jewish organizations.
“Given our strong urging that the administration move aggressively to stop the killing in Bosnia and build the framework for peace and that it use American force to accomplish those ends, a peacekeeping role fits into the definition of the appropriate role of the United States,” said Jason Isaacson, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office.
Sending troops is “a moral imperative,” said Mike Klein, communications and policy director for the National Jewish Democratic Council.
“We believe that there will be strong support from the Jewish community for this initiative,” Klein said.
The NJDC plans to encourage congressional Democrats to support sending peacekeepers, he said.
Other Jewish groups endorsed peacekeeping troops, including the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council and the American Jewish Congress.
The Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations is expected to endorse Clinton’s call at its annual convention next week.
But at lease one Jewish organization – the Jewish War Veterans – vehemently opposes sending troops to Bosnia.
“Our mind has not changed. It is a dangerous proposition and we hope Congress will oppose it,” said Howard Metzger, JWV’s national director for public relations.
Despite widespread support in the Jewish community, activists caution that Clinton must be clear about the mission for the U.S. troops, which would make up one-third of the 60,000 NATO forces in Bosnia.
The mission must be “carefully defined, carefully explained and carefully limited to accomplishing the ends of assuring that this agreement is fulfilled and does not turn peacekeepers into peacemakers,” said AJCommittee’s Isaacson.
Clinton faces an uphill battle in his effort to sway Congress to support sending troops.
Both the House and Senate have consistently voted in recent months to oppose a U.S. deployment to Bosnia.
Congress has many legislative options now that the call for troops is official in the wake of this week’s agreement.
They can either endorse or oppose the move in a nonbinding resolution. If opponents outweigh supporters, activists expect another bill to emerge that would ban the Pentagon from spending funds on a Bosnia deployment.
Any such measure would face a certain presidential veto as well as stiff opposition in the Senate.
Clinton, however, has said he would work toward a bipartisan consensus to endorse the deployment.
“Without us, the hard-won peace would be lost, the war would resume, the slaughter of innocents would begin again and the conflict that already has claimed so many people could spread like poison throughout the entire region,” the president said.
“We are at a decisive moment,” he continued. “The parties have chosen peace. America must choose peace as well.”