(JTA) — A leader of the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused Israel of “abdicating its duty” to Holocaust survivors following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to mention the genocide in a statement about Croatia.
The allegation Tuesday by Efraim Zuroff, a well-known Holocaust researcher, hunter of Nazis and head of the center’s Eastern Europe operations, came during the state visit to Israel by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and amid a conflict between his government and Croatia’s Jewish community.
Citing the Croatian government’s “failure” to address publicly the role of the pro-Nazi members of the Ustasha fascist movement in the murder of Croatian Jews during the Holocaust, the leadership of the country’s main Jewish group said it would skip a state memorial ceremony in Parliament planned for Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The problem is that the government relativizes everything that has to do with the Holocaust,” Ognjen Kraus, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities of Croatia, told Reuters Monday. His organization boycotted last year’s state event for similar reasons.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was photographed in November holding a flag of Croatia’s fascist puppet regime during World War II. That month, World War II veterans engraved a Ustasha slogan on a commemorative plaque installed in the town of Jasenovac. Authorities ignored the Jewish community’s pleas to have the plaque removed.
Last week, a Croatian principal shut down an exhibition about the Holocaust that the Anne Frank House of Amsterdam helped put up in his high school. He told the local media that he objected to its presentation of Ustasha militiamen as killers. Zuroff on Monday wrote to the Croatian Embassy in Israel demanding the principal be fired.
Ustasha men are responsible for killing the majority of the 30,000 Croatian Jews murdered in the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem. Only a fifth of the country’s pre-Holocaust Jewish community survived the genocide.
However, Netanyahu’s statement to the media about his meeting with Plenkovic made no direct or indirect reference to these controversies. Instead, he thanked Croatia for helping Israel fight forest fires last fall; praised Croatia – which is a member of the European Union — for supporting Israel in international forums, and called on it to continue to help Israel fight “militant Islamic terrorism.”
Zuroff said that while he appreciates Israel’s need to preserve and nurture its friendly ties to Eastern European nations, the Jewish state nonetheless “currently has enough leverage to find ways to express its concern over Holocaust revisionism and abuse of Holocaust memory without necessarily harming bilateral ties.”
He added that Israel “seems more eager to present itself to receive various compensations for Holocaust-related abuses than it is willing to stand up for the memory of the victims and assume the obligations connected with being the Jewish state.”