(JTA) — Serbian human rights groups called on Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to apologize for saying at a Holocaust commemoration that Nazis targeted Jews because of their overrepresentation in professions.
Nikolic “is spreading stereotypes about the Jewish people, saying that this minority was ‘over-represented in prestigious professions’,” said the Jan. 28 statement signed by a number of Belgrade-based human rights monitors and civil society groups.
Among the signatories were Belgrade representatives of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
In his speech on Jan. 27, Nikolic said that for the Nazis, “the biggest threat was seen in the Jewish people, probably on the account of their characteristics and being prominent in the prestigious professions in the domains of finances, art and science,” according to a report by the government-run broadcaster, Voice of Serbia.
He spoke at a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945.
Nikolic, who is friendly to Israel and spoke in the presence of the Israeli ambassador, members of Serbia’s Jewish community and Holocaust survivors, made the need for remembrance the central point of his speech.
“The Holocaust was the most shameful and abominable event in the human history,” he said. “In the manner unique for its fanaticism and cruelty, a huge number of human lives perished in a short time, and it must never be forgotten.”
The statement signed by the human rights groups and activists stopped short of saying that Nikolic, whose politics are nationalist, is anti-Semitic, instead suggesting that his aides were ill prepared.
Nikolic’s remarks “testify to the extremely bad preparation for public statements, ignorance and insensitivity to human rights,” the statement said.