The European Jewish Congress President Pierre Besnainou called on Croatia this Wednesday to adopt severe laws against anti-Semitism after recent incidents in which local Jews were targeted.
Visiting the Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader in Zagreb, Besnainou insisted that if Croatia wishes to join the European Union by 2009, then Croatia should adopt harsher penalties for anti-Semitic acts and discourse.
The Croatian Jewish community has reported receiving two letters within the past week at its headquarters, one threatening to “Pay Palestinians to destroy Jews,” and another denying the Holocaust and offending Jews. In addition, a local rabbi, Zvi Eliezer Alonie, was verbally attacked and pushed by a group of skinheads in downtown Zagreb on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
Aloni was on his way home from synagogue when a bunch of men wearing shirts emblazoned with swastikas apparently yelled “Jews out !” at him. Witnesses say the men pushed the rabbi over and continued to harass and insult him. Eliezer was able to escape, and took refuge in the Jewish community building. Zagreb’s Jewish community said it was the third anti-Semitic incident to have taken place in the country within a week.
A statement from the Zagreb Jewish community said the incidents recalled “The times that we thought had passed long ago.”
Croatia has laws punishing glorification of Nazism or fascism, but it does not have a separate law dealing with anti-Semitism.
Besnainou said that European Jewish communities still support Croatia’s bid to join the EU following the start of the membership talks on October 3, “and we actively act” in that regard.
President Besnainou also met with members of the local Jewish community, including President of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognen Kraus.
After Romania and Bulgaria join the EU, Croatia will be the next candidate for membership and it could join the bloc by 2010 if the Union adopts its new institutional framework. Croatia passed the last hurdle to membership after General Ante Gotovina, a Croatian general wanted for war crimes in the Yugoslav wars, was delivered to Hague War Crimes Court last December after being arrested in Spain.