Michael Melchior
Michael Melchior

Israel and Kosovo – Here and Now

Rabbi Michael Melchior at meeting with President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo
Rabbi Michael Melchior at meeting with President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo

I have just returned from a fascinating visit to Kosovo, with an unequivocal conclusion – Israel must immediately recognize Kosovo, and thus recognize reality. It is both the correct moral thing to do and we will then be joining the part of the world with whom we wish to associate on international issues.

Kosovo, which declared its final independence from Serbia some seven years ago, is a small country with a majority of 95% Muslims. It is very friendly to Israel and it persistently pursues good relations with the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

At the end of last week I was the guest of honor at an International Interfaith Peace Conference which took place in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, with 230 representatives and influential people from all walks of life from over 50 countries.

The captivating conference dealt with religious influence (for better and for worse) over the future of our world and of possible connections within it. These are issues that I deal with on a daily basis in the course of my work in Mosaica and the Religious Coalition in the Middle East. Before the conference I was invited to a private audience with the President of Kosovo, Ms. Atifete Jahjaga. I met a very impressive, a-political woman, who for the past four years has been running her country high-handedly. She was appointed unanimously by all the parties, and her popularity is unmatched in democratic states.

The President has taken upon herself a very challenging social mission which includes shedding the last traces of communism, eliminating corruption, eradicating extreme poverty and developing the economy while ensuring a wide social safety net. At the same time, she is not abandoning the struggle for women’s rights and also deals with sexual assault victims and children in need in an inspiring way.

The impressive tradition in Kosovo of doing interfaith work, of respect for all minorities (including the tiny Jewish community) can serve as an example to the entire world. During WWII when the Nazis were deporting Jews to Bergen Belsen, there were quite a number of righteous gentiles from Kosovo who endangered their lives by hiding Jews and saved many Kosovoan Jews. Their sentiment is reflected even today in international forums where Kosovo stands on the barricades in the global fight against hatred of Jews.
At the end of my excellent meeting with President Jahjaga, she accompanied me to a monument in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and promised to collaborate with us in the battle for tikkun olam in submission to G-d.

The exhilarating sensation that accompanied me as I walked the streets of Kosovo hasn’t left me. My somewhat distinct appearance provoked particular attention, and I was surprised by the affability lavished upon me from the passers-by and the interest I raised in them as a person, as a Jew, as an Israeli. I’ve been around a lot and I doubt if anywhere else in the world a Jew will encounter such warmth.

The thing is that the Western countries have already recognized Kosovo, as well as most of the countries around the world, including all our friends such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, nearly all of Europe and…Micronesia. We, on the other hand, are still dragging our feet. Two informal reasons for that are:

1. Our relations with Belgrade (now less relevant for the simple reason that from 2013 there are formal agreements between Serbia and Kosovo which are leading to normalization of relations between the two countries).

2. The concern that the Palestinians may learn from the precedent set by Kosovo regarding the option of unilaterally declaring a State (somehow, it seems to me that the Palestinians aren’t exactly waiting for Israel’s support of Kosovo to come up with this idea.) In addition, the Kosovo precedent is not of any consideration in recognition or non-recognition of a Palestinian state.

The situation today is such that we are very close to being one of the last countries that haven’t yet recognized Kosovo. Among these we are in the good company of none other than Iran.

Before my visit, I knew this was an improper situation. Now, the impressions of my visit in Kosovo leave me no doubt. We need to take a stand and recognize the State of Kosovo.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Melchior is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, and Israel-Diaspora relations. Through his work, Rabbi Melchior seeks to strengthen Israeli civil society so it may catalyze significant social change in the State of Israel. He was a member of Knesset for the Meimad Party. Rabbi Melchior continues to hold the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.