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Yugoslav Jews worried by rise in anti-Semitism

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WASHINGTON, May 14 (JTA) – Jews in Yugoslavia are praising the policy of President Vojislav Kostunica, but are concerned by an upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents in the seven months since Kostunica took office.

“It’s a paradox, we can’t explain it,” said Aca Singer, president of the Federations of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. “Anti-Semitism does not run deep among Serbs, but still we are concerned at the trend and are watching the situation.”

Kostunica assumed the presidency in October after strongman Slobodan Milosevic was ousted. Kostunica delighted the Jewish community last month by taking part at ceremonies in Belgrade’s synagogue marking Yom Hashoah. Other leading government figures also participated, along with the Israeli ambassador and representatives of Jewish communities.

“It was a very, very important gesture,” said Singer, who spoke to JTA while in Washington for the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee. “It was the first time that the president took part.”

Nonetheless, he said, recent episodes of anti-Semitism in Belgrade and elsewhere have caused alarm.

These included several instances of anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas scrawled on city walls and the vandalization of Jewish memorial plaques in the towns of Kikinda and Zrenjanin.

Gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Zrenjanin also were vandalized in February. In Kikinda, an elderly Holocaust survivor received a death threat in the mail and had swastikas scrawled on her door.

“There have been significantly more anti-Semitic attacks since the fall of Milosevic,” said Lidija Petrovic, president of the Zrenjanin Jewish community. “We can’t explain it.”

Also alarming, Singer and Petrovic said, was an attempt by far-right nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj and his extremist Radical Party to compare their position to that of Jews during the Holocaust.

Singer said he protested a recent incident during which Seselj and other Radical Party members in the Serbian Parliament donned yellow armbands and claimed that they were “modern Jews” threatened by the post-Milosevic government.

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