Genocide denial must be unacceptable to Jewish leaders - opinion

On July 11, world leaders joined survivors in commemorating the Srebrenica Genocide, the worst atrocity to occur on European soil since the Holocaust.

 RESAD GOGALIJA, an employee of the Bosnian Ministry of Culture, displays the famed Sarajevo Haggadah at a Passover dinner in the city’s synagogue, in 1995. (photo credit: REUTERS)
RESAD GOGALIJA, an employee of the Bosnian Ministry of Culture, displays the famed Sarajevo Haggadah at a Passover dinner in the city’s synagogue, in 1995.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

On the day that 16 newly identified Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide were laid to rest in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) northwestern municipality of Prijedor, William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (Conference of Presidents), held a meeting with genocide denier Zeljka Cvijanovic, president of BiH’s smaller entity Republika Srpska (RS). While Cvijanovic held meetings in the US, the Serb member of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency Milorad Dodik was welcomed in Israel. Given that antisemitism is on the rise, Jewish leaders should not give a platform to genocide deniers and fervent Putin supporters.

Unable to enter the US due to the sanctions, which were imposed on him twice by the US government for corruption, and destabilization, Dodik was received in Israel by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman. He was even honored by the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, with their Friends of Zion Award. Meanwhile, across the pond, Daroff and the Conference of Presidents retweeted the picture of their meeting with Cvijanovic, labeling it as “interesting and thoughtful dialogue.”

A week earlier, on July 11, world leaders joined survivors in commemorating the Srebrenica Genocide, the worst atrocity to occur on European soil since the Holocaust. It was there in 1995 that over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were systematically murdered by Serb forces, in what the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has ruled to be a genocide. While Dodik and Cvijanovic have made it national policy to deny the genocide at Srebrenica, they are also no strangers to aggressively disrupting global security and promoting corruption. As a result, last April, the UK government sanctioned both, with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stating that the two were encouraged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Dodik and Cvijanovic remain Kremlin’s most loyal allies in the region and have called Putin’s attack on its smaller, democratic neighbor Ukraine a special intervention, in which BiH’s smaller entity Republika Srpska (RS) needs to remain neutral. In fact, Dodik was the only European head of state who in personal capacity supported Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. His political party continues to actively undermine the security and territorial integrity of BiH and Europe.

Given that Dodik, Cvijanovic and their loyal cronies are actively working on instigating an armed conflict in BiH should alarm all free and democratic nations. Equally, their relentless plight in revising BiH’s history and shameless genocide denial should more than raise eyebrows with our Jewish allies. As Menachem Z. Rosensaft, who serves as Associate Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, recently stated, “The ongoing brazen attempt to deny or distort these gruesome atrocities that we are witnessing in Croatia, Republika Srpska and elsewhere do not only showcase the moral ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers.

 World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder is seen addressing the Jerusalem Post London Conference, on March 31, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder is seen addressing the Jerusalem Post London Conference, on March 31, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

FAR MORE ominously, they are a reminder of the resilience and the resurgence of political extremism that provided fertile ground for genocide in the first place.” In his many writings on the topic, Rosensaft has stated that Dodik and Cvijanovic are “following the playbook of the most egregious Holocaust deniers.”

Bosnians and Jews

Bosnians will never forget the care packages from synagogues across the US arriving in besieged Sarajevo and that it was the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, along with other survivors that called on president Clinton and world leaders to intervene in BiH. They urged the world to stop the bloodshed in BiH that was being perpetrated by the very Serbs that the likes of Dodik and Cvijanovic proudly glorify today.

After recent reports that High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt is planning to impose new election legislation, Jewish leaders around the world should stand shoulder to shoulder with Bosnian Jews, Roma and Muslims, who are facing the danger of radical institutional discrimination under the new law.

Schmidt, a politician from Germany’s right-wing Christian Social Union, has chosen to completely disregard the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which clearly found that the Jews and Roma are excluded from holding highest positions in Bosnian government simply because of their ethnic belonging. His plan is to make sure that the Islamophobic and antisemitic Bosnian Croat party, the Dodik-allied Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) is treated as more equal than other citizens in BiH.

As antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise, it is imperative for countries, like BiH and Israel, that are home to significant Muslim and Jewish populations to stand together with genocide survivors who are facing new discrimination and against deniers. The history of the Jewish people in BiH dates back over five centuries. At one point, BiH was home to over 22,000 Jews, with the population of Sarajevo being 20% Jewish. Many Jews found refuge in BiH after being expelled from Spain during the inquisition.

During the Second World War, the people of Sarajevo helped their Jewish neighbors, the most notable story being that of a Bosnian Muslim chief librarian, who worked at the national museum and helped save a Passover Haggadah from the Nazis. This priceless 14th century holy book was brought to Sarajevo by Jews fleeing Spain. Today, the synagogue in Sarajevo is one of the only in Europe that does not have armed guards, as the Jews of Sarajevo have enjoyed centuries of peaceful coexistence and friendship with their non-Jewish neighbors.

Bearing in mind the hundreds of years of unique relationship between the Bosnian and Jewish people, it is important that the Conference of Presidents, as well as Jewish leaders in Israel, continue to promote values that both Jews and most people of BiH share. Providing legitimacy to genocide deniers and amplifying their voices is a dangerous path. Instead, we urge our Jewish allies to stand against fascism.

Ajla Delkic is president of the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and co-chair of the Southeast Europe Coalition. Reuf Bajrovic is vice president of US-Europe Alliance and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.