Croatia not expected to influence EU policy on Israel

In general, former Iron Curtain countries among states more favorably inclined toward Jewish State within EU.

July 2, 2013 01:42
2 minute read.
Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic with Peres

Croatian Ambassador Pjer Simunovic with Peres 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israeli diplomatic officials congratulated Croatia on Monday for becoming the 28th state in the European Union, but said the Balkan country’s ascension has no special meaning for Israel.

The official’s statement indicated that Jerusalem had no great expectation that Croatia’s joining the EU on Monday would mean that Israel would add another significant supportive voice inside the EU.

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Not because Israel and Croatia do not enjoy good relations, but rather because Croatia – because of its small size (4.4 million people), geography and economic problems – is not expected to wield much influence over EU policy.

The EU’s enlargement over the last decade has brought into its ranks a number of former Iron Curtain countries which have often taken a more supportive policy of Israel inside EU institutions, something not insignificant given that the EU decisions need a consensus.

Foremost among those countries is the Czech Republic, but also countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Baltic countries.

For instance, the EU split last November at the UN General Assembly vote on whether to grant the Palestinians non-member statehood status. While 14 EU countries voted for the proposal, that number did not include any of the former Iron Curtain countries.

The only EU country that voted with Israel was the Czech Republic, and of the 12 EU countries that abstained, nine of those were former Soviet Bloc countries.

It is expected that Croatia will join that bloc inside the EU. Croatia abstained in the UN vote, as well as in the vote to grant the Palestinians membership in UNESCO in 2011.

Israeli officials did not expect Croatia to have an influential voice inside the EU on Mideast deliberations, and that rather than taking a lead on these issues it would most likely follow its perception of the EU consensus.

Israel established diplomatic relations with Croatia in 1997 and the two countries exchanged ambassadors. The relationship got off to a rocky start, however, when Franjo Tudjman became Croatia’s first president in 1991 and continued in that post until his death in 1999.

In a 1989 book, Tudjman downplayed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and included a number of anti-Semitic passages.

Because of this book and Tudjman’s penchant to glorify the ultra- nationalist Croat Ustashi terror movement – whose Nazi puppet state behaved with savage cruelty toward its Jews – the former president was persona non grata in Israel, even though he tried to forge closer defense ties with Jerusalem. Israel refused to host him on an official visit while he was president.

Relations between Israel and Croatia greatly improved after a new, pro- Western government came to power in early 2000.

Diplomatic officials characterized the current state of relations between the two countries as “friendly,” with Croatia an increasingly popular destination for Israeli tourists. Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman was the first Israeli foreign minister to visit there, doing so in 2009, and visiting another two times over the next three years.

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