Imagine terrorists (in Kashmir, Israel, Serbia, Chechnya, or anywhere else) who are carrying out attacks against police, government officials and citizens in a bid to carve out their own state, hoping to provoke a response from the government that will alarm the international community. Imagine that the world duly intervenes, and a peacekeeping force is sent in, paralyzing the nation's ability to defend itself, and effectively doing the militants' bidding even as attacks against the non-Muslim population continue. Finally, imagine the intervening internationals severing this nation's Jerusalem from it and handing it to the provocateurs. It sounds like a worst-case scenario for the Israeli people, but it is a fate that actually befell the Serbian people, who this year may lose Kosovo as the deadline approaches for determining the status of the province, where Christian churches, monasteries and homes were burned to the ground in pogroms in March of last year. They will lose Kosovo to Albanian Muslims, whose fates are now entirely in the hands of the international Islamist factions with whom they, and we, cast their lot. As a reprisal of last March looms on the horizon (Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj stepped down when he was indicted for war crimes last week, and the UN Mission in Kosovo was promptly bombed), the reticence about butchered Serbian octogenarians, children and other civilians--alternating with dismissal of these atrocities, even six years later, as "revenge killings"--intimates that terrorized Serbs are an even bigger yawn than terrorized Israelis. That's why I am calling upon my fellow Jews to break their own conspicuous silence.
In the six years since our bizarre bombing of Belgrade to prevent a genocide that forensics turned up empty (a memo that apparently made it only to European and Canadian presses, leaving a gaping hole in our national dialogue), the sense of something not being said grows palpable. With every explosive report coming from the Balkans-- Islamic charities getting busted as terror-funding fronts, terrorist cells being uncovered in Bosnia and Kosovo, explosions on Pristina's Bill Clinton Avenue, then last year's coordinated Albanian riots that injured 900, killed 19 Serbs and tried to drive out what was left of Kosovo's non-Albanian population--more and more people have started to think it, but who has the poor taste to say it?
After all, we were told that a genocide was in progress. We were told of mass graves. A hundred thousand killed and 800,000 displaced, Bill Clinton said.
Soon after the U.S.-led NATO invasion, the 100,000 figure turned out to be closer to 2,000 and included armed Albanian and Serb fighters. "No Bodies at Rumored Grave Site in Kosovo," read a Reuters headline as early as October '99, above an article reporting the results of an excavation by international war crimes investigators to check the rumors that Serbs had hidden up to 700 Albanian bodies in a lead and zinc mine. Other "mass graves" turned up empty or hardly massive, and the Racak massacre, the feather that was used to break the NATO camel's back, turned out to have been staged, according to three forensics teams sent in to investigate--but only after the first team, headed by Finland's Helena Ranta, initially gave a thumbs- up to "massacre" so that the bombing campaign could commence. (Two years and thousands of lives later, Ranta's final report confirmed the opposite conclusion.)
Sold on a Holocaust scenario, the American people couldn't have known what sinister deal they'd signed on to. But my fellow Jews should have smelled a rat. And to my profound disappointment, in the face of a stunning parallel to the Palestinian propaganda war that Jews themselves struggle with, for the most part they have been silent since.
As journalists fanned the early flames of Serb demonization in Bosnia, starting with a widely circulated 1992 photo of a Serb- run "death camp" for Bosnian Muslims that turned out to have been taken from the inside of a fenced storage area, and showed refugees who had escaped the fighting and were free to go at any time, it should have raised some red flags among my tribe--even if only after the fact. After all, what Jew can forget the NY Times photo from a 2000 riot in Jerusalem, showing an Israeli soldier standing over a bloody young man—the caption identifying the scene as an Israeli policeman and a Palestinian? It subsequently came to bear that the bloody "Palestinian" was a Chicago Yeshiva student who had just been beaten by Palestinians. One need only say the word "Jenin" to a Jew for him to recall the vision of Palestinians digging up old graves to increase the body count there.
But just as Palestinians have been a step ahead of Israelis when it comes to PR, so were Balkan Muslims a step ahead of Serb Christians. Such that when, early on, it came to winning American-Jewish empathy, the Albanian Kosovars were victorious over the Serbs.
A 1994 article in a monthly Jewish publication called "Midstream," which caught on early, cites an interview between a French journalist named Jacques Merlino and James Harff, of the D.C.-based PR firm Ruder & Finn, which was representing Croatia, Bosnia and the Kosovo Liberation Army. After boasting about having set up meetings between Bosnian officials and Al Gore, George Mitchell, Bob Dole and other politicians, Harff described the achievement he was most proud of: "To have managed to put Jewish opinion on our side…At the beginning of August 1992, `New York Newsday' came out with the affair of [Serb] concentration camps. We jumped at the opportunity immediately. We outwitted three big Jewish organizations--B'nai B'rith, Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress. We suggested to them to publish an advertisement in the `New York Times' and to organize demonstrations outside the United Nations. That was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind."
It was a sneak PR attack, and the Serbs were out-sassed. If anyone should have looked deeper into the story being peddled, it was the Jewish community—who ask that people do their homework before making rash judgments about Israeli operations in the Palestinian territories and siding with the visibly more pathetic side. But the magic "genocide" wand was waved, and organized Jewry fell into its autopilot never-again trance.
It's all the more tragic considering the historical relationship between Jews and Serbs, both of whom were persecuted by the Nazis' Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian brigades during WWII. In 1999, under pressure from the U.S. and amid protest from Israelis who knew better, Israel joined NATO's war against Yugoslavia, leaving Serbs stunned and angry in an era when most of Europe was already being engulfed by a new wave anti-Semitism. Today, whatever Jews remained in Kosovo before our intervention have been cleansed right along with the Serbs.
And yet last March 18th, the second day of renewed Serb cleansing, the House of Representatives was treated to the following resolution on Kosovo by Congressman Eliot Engel (D, NY), who chairs the Albanian Issues Caucus: "When there is no resolution of the final status, the people in a country become restless…Right now there is rampant unemployment. Right now there is very little hope for a future…Self- determination and, ultimately, independence for the people of Kosovo is the only solution…What we have seen…is this ridiculous plan called standards before status…We put forward benchmarks and we tell the people of Kosovo they have to achieve these benchmarks before we can even look at a resolution and at self-determination."
The speech easily could be mistaken for one that makes the case for immediate Palestinian statehood as a way to end "understandable" violence against Israelis. The irony of it coming from a pro-Israel Jewish congressman is too thick for comment, and yet it got thicker when in his closing thoughts Engel employed the penultimate moral- equivalence phrase that Jews find so maddening in reference to Israel: "The ethnic violence which happened yesterday is a tragic undertaking, a tragic tragedy, and I must call on both sides to stop the violence."
Especially in light of the millions of Christians who today stand with Israel as it fights for the right to defend itself, too few Jews have stood up for the Serb Christians. No, the Serbs are not the Jews. Not every nation, when provoked, plays as tenderly as Israel, whose teen soldiers risk their lives going door to door to pluck the one or two actual terrorists out of a household of complicit family members.
A 2000 documentary on England's BBC2 showed an interview with KLA leader Hashim Thaci, in which he admitted, "We knew full well that any armed action we undertook would trigger a ruthless retaliation by Serbs against our people. We knew we were endangering civilian lives, too, a great number of lives." There was also a sound bite from a Kosovo Albanian negotiator named Doug Gorani: "The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA of course realized that."
Had we not been looking for mini Holocausts under every bed, had we not responded like Pavlovian dogs when hearing that a modern-day Holocaust was under way in Europe's underbelly, we could have seen through the hoax, as well as what it portended for Israel.
Instead, cover articles ran in Jewish newspapers across America, such as the one in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles that began, "With echoes of the Holocaust and pogroms haunting a collective conscience, the Jewish community in Los Angeles has mobilized forces to come to the aid of Kosovar refugees left homeless and hungry by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic." A full-page ad read: "OUR HELPING HAND EXTENDS ALL THE WAY TO KOSOVO," and the small print informed readers that the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles had made a donation of $50,000 to the Kosovo Refugee Relief Fund of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Only when turning to the letters page did one encounter a dissenting voice. It belonged to self-described researcher and writer Paul Stonehill, who compared the one-sided press coverage to that directed against Israel: "I am sad that because of our misguided policy yet another radical Moslem state will appear in Europe. I am sad that the Serbs, who stood up to the Nazis like very few other people did during the war are bombed by the grandchildren of the Allies. And I am ashamed that some Jews have such selective memory."
In 1999 this selective memory afflicted both the ADL's Abe Foxman ("We're glad that we're doing now what we weren't doing then [WWII]"), and Elie Wiesel, who approved of bombing Yugoslavia when instead the 1941 words of Adolf Hitler should have been echoing through his head: "As soon as sufficient forces are available and the weather allows, the ground installations of the Yugoslav Air Force and the City of Belgrade will be destroyed from the air by continual day and night bombardment. When that is completed we will subdue Yugoslavia."
Sure enough, within weeks of our offensive, Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, commander of the allied Saudi troops during the first Gulf War, called on NATO and the U.S. to extend its "honorable actions" in Kosovo to Palestine. A few years later, when Kofi Annan sent Helena Ranta to look for evidence of massacre in Jenin, karma came calling. Israel's external adviser on the Jenin inquiry, Cambridge University international legal expert Daniel Bethlehem, warned then, "If the committee's findings uphold the allegations against Israel--even on poor reasoning--this…may make it impossible for Israel to resist calls for an international force, the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state and the prosecution of individuals said to have committed the alleged acts."
When, during Wesley Clark's clumsy yet merciless 78-day bombardment of the Orthodox Christian Serbs, which didn't break even for Easter (the way our other bombardments have for Ramadan), the possibility of a precedent for Israel was made clear to then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon by an Italian ambassador, he asked American Jewish leaders to call for an end to the bombardment against Yugoslavia, citing that the KLA was backed by Iran-backed terror outfits and that an independent Kosovo would be a gateway for the spread of terror throughout Europe.
Whether such an organized Jewish voice emerged is unclear; if it did, it was done quietly, to save face. What has begun to take form since is a humanitarian concern for the remaining Serbs of Kosovo. But its language has been meticulously woven, so as not to backpedal too obviously on our overzealous enforcement of a cheap morality.
But we Jews at least should be trying to set the record straight. Though they were late in coming, entire organizations are devoted to debunking the Muslim-spun mythology against Israel that so many in the media dutifully report. The Serbs have no such face to the outside world, and so they do not get their slice of human sympathy. Nor did the Serbs think to buy clout in the halls of power via lobbyists in the U.S. Congress, where the Albanians, Croatians and Bosnians have been buying influence for decades, from the likes of Bob Dole, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Tom Lantos, Joe Biden, Jesse Helms and Benjamin Gillman, to name just a few. Like the Israelis had for a long time, the Serbs--busy fighting radicals--assumed the ability of the world to see right from wrong, up from down, truth from lie, and didn't realize they were supposed to be fighting a simultaneous image war. Today, amid a sustained media blackout on the subject of our little 1999 war that has been quietly backfiring and still offers no hint of an exit strategy, Serbian-Americans and others who understand our miscalculation are left feverishly writing letters to editors in response to the many articles that get the Balkans wrong, in a futile attempt to inform the public.
Today, Serbia is the only remaining pocket of multi-ethnicity in the Balkans--where Serbs, gypsies, Jews, Albanian and other Muslims, along with 22 other nationalities still coexist. In fact, when trouble started, many Albanians fled to Belgrade--just as Bosnian Muslims had before them. It's not unlike the situation of that "racist" state of the Middle East, Israel, with its one million Arab citizens standing in contrast to the surrounding Jew-cleansed Arab lands.
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague, meanwhile, was billed as no less than Nuremberg 2. Yet we hear virtually nothing about it. Where are the day-to-day reports of this momentous historical event, dispatches from which should have Americans lining up at the newsstands and scouring their papers for the latest developments? And wouldn't the biggest trial since Nuremberg at least warrant some punditry?
When one considers also that, more than a year into the trial, the court finally relented from its own one-sidedness and decided it would start trying non-Serbs for war crimes against Serbs as well, the Nuremberg analogy falls apart like a bad joke. How many Jews do we recall being prosecuted at the Nuremberg Trials? And as the Chicago Tribune pointed out on the first anniversary of Milosevic's trial, Nuremberg took only 11 months "to try, convict, sentence and hang 10 of Adolf Hitler's top lieutenants." The Milosevic trial is now in its fourth year.
If, as we were told, there was systematic rape by Serbs, where are the resulting children? Or evidence of mass abortions? Jewish women had Nazi babies, and at Nuremberg there was plenty of testimony and plenty of evidence. So far at the Hague, there has been only testimony (much of which falls apart under cross-examination), and virtually no evidence. Such that the court has had to redefine the very word "genocide"--to at least make it fit what happened in Bosnia after it was unable to make it fit Kosovo. ("War crimes case widens `genocide,'" BBC.com, April 19, 2004). Hence we arrive at a state of affairs wherein the UN declares 70,000 dead men, women and children in Darfur to not be genocide, but 7,000 dead Bosnian males in the UN "safe haven" Srebrenica--used as a staging ground for attacks on Serbs--is.
While Byzantine art exhibits at New York museums were humming last year, 900-year-old Serb churches, cathedrals and monasteries in Kosovo were being systematically bombed, burned, looted, and urinated on in a single week. The pogroms had been set off by a rumor, later confirmed false by NATO, that Serbs had drowned some Albanian youths. By the end of March, 366 homes and 41 churches were destroyed, according to an AP report, which quoted 23 year-old Ruzhdi Krasniqi, who "smoked a cigarette as he assessed the damage and said he felt `OK' about [it]. `I don't want the Serbs to return here,' he said. `They've got no place here.'"
In response to the violence, Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova told an Italian newspaper, "Everyone realizes by now that it is clear that independence from Serbia is vital for Kosovo and its inhabitants."
Though he is a moderate and has had at least two attempts on his life because of it, Rugova seems to have followed the Arafat model: Accept the infidel's (the West's) help for as long as it moves you closer to your goal. When you hit the inevitable brick wall with the infidel and he ceases to further your agenda, revert to traditional methods and allow violence to engulf the region, turning your guns against the helpful infidel if necessary. Then propose independence as the only possible solution.
Independence, of course, would mean withdrawing UN peacekeepers. As Balkan-based journalist Chris Deliso wrote last year for BalkanAnalysis.com, "Even though they are inept…the UN contingents cannot be replaced by local enforcers without serious repercussions for Europe and America. With no foreign eyes and ears on the ground, pretty much anything can happen….terrorists abroad look for safe havens in states with little or no central control…Kosovo--with its porous borders, fundamentalist minority, criminal underbelly and proximity to the rest of Europe--is a perfect hiding place." He concludes, "With successes like that, who needs failures?"
But Americans don't see how Kosovo relates to them. Until 1999, who had ever even heard of a Serb? It was neither an enemy nor a significant international player. So this people and what happened to their country do not occupy any coherent place in the American psyche.
Without being innocent, a people can still be scapegoated and a falsified history go down in the books. Serbs have apologized repeatedly for the heavy hand that Belgrade wielded in responding to the ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia. They have admitted they are not innocent, while the instigators themselves admit nothing, continue crying out against past Serb crimes, and kill with abandon.
That the Serbs haven't been innocent cannot continue to be used to mischaracterize the Balkan conflicts and our actions there. Starting with a mistaken premise and working backwards to prove it, then devolving into moral equivalence when it doesn't work must stop. A reevaluation must begin. Whether it does or not, history's reckoning will come, such that after an air war against a fictitious enemy, we may have to fight a ground war against the real one.
The world stood by while one-third of its Jews were exterminated last century. This century, the Jews stand by idly with the world as a people's history is erased. Serbia is reviled, for like Israel, it had the poor taste to not wait for 9/11 to start the resistance against a common enemy.
That's why, in sounding the call for Serb rehabilitation, I apply a double standard to my fellow Jews. They should be used to it. The Serbs are.