Why is Israel courting Croatia’s leader?

Holocaust revisionism and the rise of antisemitism are being fueled by Croatian politicians.

President Reuven Rivlin hosts a state dinner on July 29 in honor of Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin hosts a state dinner on July 29 in honor of Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.
– Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1986
On June 6, leaders from America and Europe marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to defeat Nazi Germany.
Almost 75 years after the end of WWII, there is a new battle brewing within Europe for the hearts and minds of a new generation. In the Balkans, Holocaust revisionism and the rise of antisemitism are being fueled by politicians including Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and officials of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) political party.
Croatia’s pro-Nazi Ustasha government was responsible for the deaths of 80 percent of Croatian Jews, with the majority killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp known as the Auschwitz of the Balkans.
Grabar-Kitarovic won Croatia’s presidency in 2015 by igniting antisemitism and extremism as tools to attract far-right voters. The margin of victory was less than 1 percent with the electoral list populated by nearly one million illegal votes for a nation of four million people.
“President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, for instance, publicly appears with known right-wing leaders and even accused war criminals, and she occasionally goes off on hate-filled tirades in TV interviews,” Deutsche Welle stated in 2015. “She only distances herself from extremists when foreign pressure leaves her no other option.”
In November 2016, Grabar-Kitarović was photographed with Canada’s Croatian community posing with a pro-Nazi Ustasha coat of arms, which was used during the murder of vast numbers of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists.
“During her visit to the United States she was a special guest at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Federation of Croatian Americans,” Croatia’s media group Index.hr wrote in 2018. “At one point, Kolinda stood by the microphone to sing the song ‘You Are Beautiful’ by Marko Perković Thompson, the same singer who sang ‘Jasenovac and Gradiška Stara’ praising Ustasha concentration camps.”
An article in The Guardian reports, “Grabar-Kitarović has said that she loves Thompson’s music.”
While Grabar-Kitarović endorsed the controversial musician, European countries took action. According to Reuters, “Thompson, who has had concerts banned in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bosnia and even in his home country in recent years, rejects accusations that his folk-rock songs glorify the Nazi-backed fascist state in Croatia during World War II.”
On May 9, Grabar-Kitarovic visited a commemoration site in Bleiburg, Austria, dedicated to the defeated pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia’s soldiers and civilian supporters killed by Yugoslav partisans in the aftermath of WWII. Grabar-Kitarović’s visit took place on the eve of the annual commemoration described by Rudolf Edlinger, president of the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance, as “the biggest annual neo-fascist reunion in Europe.” Edlinger added that the event glorified the Croatian Nazi-collaborationist regime.
Politico wrote about the Bleiburg event: “The Croatian state-sponsored event has become Europe’s biggest neo-fascist gathering, glorifying the Ustasha regime that collaborated with the Nazis and showing that leading Croat politicians – including those from Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s conservative HDZ party – are trying to whitewash its crimes.”
Dr. Ognjen Kraus, president of The Coordination of Jewish Communities, said, “The HDZ government has failed to address the rise of antisemitism and the display of fascist symbols. It is lenient toward those sympathetic to the WWII Croatian fascist Ustasha regime.”
In the midst of these serious concerns, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently welcomed Croatia’s president to Israel.
Grabar-Kitarović ’s HDZ political party has been mired in rampant corruption, and largely responsible for most of the $35.6 billion of illicit financial outflows that left the country via crime, corruption and tax evasion in the period 2004-2015. Larger amounts have been siphoned off since 1991.
Croatia’s $1 billion corruption attempt to buy 12 30-year-old US-made F-16 fighter jets from Israel was blocked by the US in December. These planes were at the end of their life span, made in the US and originally provided to Israel free of charge as part of the Peace Marble program. Fitted with Israeli electronics, the planes could not be sold to a third party without US consent.
While Croatia and Israel’s government have been working together on the details of this deal for three years – completely ignoring the major requirement of US consent – Croatia’s antisemitic messages were intensifying.
Israel’s moral authority is rooted in the Jewish state’s founding on the principles of the rule of law that protects life, liberty and private property.
How can Israel’s leadership court antisemitic and corrupt foreign officials while engaging rule of law nations to address the rise of antisemitism and confront the evil BDS scheme? This is the defining moral question for the future of Israel. ■
The writers are co-founders of the US-based International Leaders Summit and Jerusalem Leaders Summit