NEW ERA OF SERBIA-ISRAEL FRIENDSHIP
Prof. Gideon Grief, PhD, a historian at the Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute
- The Republic of Serbia and Israel are close friends and it is fortunate that that friendship exists. This should not come as a surprise to us as our two nations have similar history, similar heritage, similar fate, similar sufferings and a very similar pattern of self-defense with the aim of national survival.
- The pact of brotherhood between the Serbian and Jewish people has been sealed with blood and martyrdom.
- When meeting Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the friendship between the Serbian and Jewish people goes back thousands of years, to the time of the Roman Republic. In Serbia, during World War II, our people faced brutal persecution and extermination by German Nazis and their associates. We will never forget the role of the Serbian people in the fight against Nazism.
- Over 80% of the Yugoslav Jewish population was killed in the World War II together with between 700,000 and 800,000 Orthodox Serbs.
- Hundreds of thousands Serbs and thousands Jews were brutally murdered in the Croatian death camp Jasenovac, which was 6 times the size of Auschwitz. The victims were tortured and murdered in 57 different ways.
- The initiative of the Dean of the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology, Prof. Ljiljana Marković, PhD, to establish a Department of Hebrew Language and Israeli Culture at this Faculty is exceptional. Further academic collaboration between Serbia and Israel and student exchange will include the Faculties of Law, Medicine, Teacher Education and Physical Education.
- I am extremely grateful to the organizers of this conference for an excellent initiative and my invite. I wish for the friendship between Serbia and Israel to strengthen and grow for a long time.
Prof. Vladimir Marinković, PhD, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and the Head of the Serbia–Israel Parliamentary friendship group
- At the level of parliamentary cooperation between Serbia and Israel, there are great relations with all the parties in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Last year, several excellent meetings were held with the Speaker of the Knesset and the representatives of the majority and opposition parties.
- It is extremely important that President Rivlin and President Aleksandar Vučić opened the Theodore Herzl Street in Zemun last year, the founder of the idea of Zionism and the modern State of Israel, which we are especially proud of.
- The decisions of the US President Donald Trump to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights are brave decisions and should be supported.
- The thesis of the Israel friendship group in our Parliament is that the modern Europe, our Judeo-Christian civilization, is defended in the Golan Heights. If the Golan Heights was not under Israel’s control, who knows what safety, civilizational and other effects this could have on the entirety of Europe and the Middle East region.
- Israel is a bastion of values of democracy, development, economy and modernization of the entire region. I hope that the other countries in the Middle East will also accept these values defined by Israel as a state.
- Israel is our great ally and we should support Israel by all means and ensure the highest form of cooperation which is relocating the embassy to Jerusalem, as the crowning achievement of our relations, which the National Avant-garde also advocates for.
- It is necessary for us to extend the hand of friendship, as Israel extends theirs by being determined to not even put the issue of the independence of the so-called Kosovo on the agenda. Although this may not be in their best interest, Israel has been resisting their allies and political friends when it comes to Serbia and its vital national interests.
- As Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, I submitted a proposal to the Belgrade authorities for one street to be named after general Ariel Sharon, known for defending our country during the 1999 bombing and being publicly opposed to it, although it was neither popular nor in his best political interest.
- Serbia is the first country in the world to pass the Law on Restitution of Property of heirless Holocaust victims. Over the following 20 years, our state will allocate about one million euros per year for the Jewish community.
- I would like to express my gratitude for inviting me to this gathering of strategic importance for our country and to thank the National Avant-garde association for such an initiative and for their work, as a part of the NGO sector, on the accomplishment of the historical and strategic interests of the Republic of Serbia.
H.E. Alona Fisher-Kamm, Israeli Ambassador to Serbia
- Diplomatic relations between states always rest on two pillars. The first pillar is historical and emotional and it is the sense of friendship and solidarity. The second pillar rests on interests, primarily political and economic. Israel and Serbia have both in their cooperation.
- The historical and emotional part of the relation consists of the permanent presence of the Jewish community in Serbia. Three people have played an important role in the history of our relations: Rabbi Alkalai, one of the most prominent founders of the Zionist movement, who was heavily influenced by the Serbian nationalism of that time. The second person is the grandfather of Theodore Herzl, the assistant to Rabbi Alkalai. And David Albala, a Serbian national hero and Zionist from Belgrade, highly decorated after World War I. Albala was sent to Washington to lobby for the Serbian nationalism where he came into contact with the Jewish community and the idea of Jewish nationalism. Albala became an advocate of the interests of both nationalisms and the aspirations of both nations to restore the statehood of their homeland.
- The letter from the Serbian Government of 1917 recognizing the Balfour Declaration is the first international document recognizing the right of the Jewish people to their homeland in Palestine. The term “State of Israel” was mentioned for the first time in this document which in a way makes Serbia the “copyright” owner of this name.
- An important issue for Israel is also the issue of Holocaust memorial centers, such as Staro Sajmište, Topovske Šupe, Jasenovac and others.
- The political relations between Serbia and Israel are excellent. There are no open issues between the two countries.
- Israel does not recognize Kosovo and will not recognize it. Regardless of this fact and the excellent friendship with Serbia, Israel sometimes expects greater support at the United Nations and other international institutions seeking to condemn Israel on various grounds. These situations sometimes abandon political logic and go into complete absurdity and distortion of historical facts, which is the case with the UNESCO Resolution denying ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.
- President Trump was the first to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and relocate the embassy, but other states have also made some moves (opening business or tourist offices) or made political statements of their intentions to do so. Such are the examples of Brazil, Hungary, the Czech Republic etc.
- The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital not only does not threaten the peace process but supports it in a way, forcing the Palestinian side to accept the political reality and reach an agreement accordingly.
- Israel is designated as a Jewish and a democratic state. Israel is the homeland of all Jews and all of them have the right to “come back.” Of the total number of Jews today, approximately 50% live in Israel.
- The definition of “Jewishness” is complicated as it applies both to the religion and the nationality. It is set up very widely so as to reach as many people as possible. There are ultra-Orthodox Jews, traditionalists and non-religious people living in Israel, but it is precisely the widespread notion of the “Jewish state” that allows for everyone to fit their individual identity into the collective one. Under these conditions, the state functions successfully thanks to strong democratic institutions.
- Social progress and identity in Israel are seen as complementary values, with the main emphasis being on education. The lessons of one’s past, history and cultural heritage should be used as a tool in building an innovative and creative society.
Goran Vesić, Deputy Mayor of Belgrade
- Today, Serbia-Israel relations are not burdened by any open issues.
- We are one of few nations where there was no anti-Semitism and we are proud of that.
- Serbia is one of the first countries, as mentioned before, to pass a law to compensate the victims of the Holocaust, that is, to restore the property of the killed Jews with no heirs to the Jewish community.
- I am particularly proud to have visited Yad Vashem as a representative of Belgrade and handed over 31,000 documents pertaining to the life of the Jewish community in Belgrade and the events of the Holocaust, which have been preserved in our Historical Archives of Belgrade and the Archive of Serbia.
- We have carried out a major project with the assistance of the World Jewish Congress, which reconstructed the lives of 3,500 of our fellow Jews killed in the Staro Sajmište concentration camp. We handed over that documentation to Yad Vashem. Currently, we are working on the second phase of the project, i.e. the reconstruction of the lives of 6,500 victims of Staro Sajmište.
- I am proud to be a part of the city authorities which finally raised the issue of the memorialization of Staro Sajmište. A bill has been submitted to the Government of Serbia and a government commission has been formed to prepare the final bill on Staro Sajmište
- As its first decision in 2014, the city authorities made the decision to declare May 10 as the Holocaust Remembrance Day in honor of our Jewish compatriots who were killed in the Staro Sajmište concentration camp.
- Israeli investors have invested around 2 billion euros in Serbia, the majority being in Belgrade and the real estate, almost one million square meters.
- Israeli investors have a good reputation so the real estate is being sold off as early as at the start of construction.
- The constant increase in the number of foreign tourists, including Israeli tourists, is directly related to the high level of safety in both Belgrade and Serbia, and safety is one of the most important criteria when choosing a tourist destination.
- We will try, using Israel as a model, to encourage the development of startups and the creative industry in Belgrade, by adopting new regulations together with the Republic.
- The proposal of the Deputy Speaker Marinković to name one of the streets after general Sharon was gladly accepted by the city authorities.
- By preserving Serbian dignity and guarding our nationalism which we are proud of, the National Avant-garde raises the real issues in our society.