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Reexamining Kosovo-Israel relations

Israeli diplomats should sit up and pay attention to the first Muslim majority nation – and the first European nation – to open an embassy in Jerusalem
Flag of the Republic of Kosovo
The flag of the Republic of Kosovo

In the heart of Jerusalem, at the corner of Abraham Lincoln Street and Keren HaYesod, is the non-descript Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo.

Similar to Jerusalem having streets named for American Presidents, the capital of Kosovo boasts a larger-than-life statue of President Bill Clinton and a boulevard named in his honor.

As Israeli flights begin to fly over Saudi Arabia and the dust settles from the historic visit of President Joe Biden to the region last month, it is important to not lose site of the unique potential for the growing relationship between Israel and Kosovo. Indeed, they are both consistently ranked as the “most pro-American” countries in the world.

President Biden’s trip to the Middle East codified the Abraham Accords are a bipartisan priority for Washington and what happened in September 2020 was just the beginning. It also served as a reminder that policymaking requires outside the box thinking to meet ever-changing realities.

One example of this, happened last week. Both President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti were in Washington. They joined Secretary Antony Blinken and others for a trip that further cemented the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Kosovo. The US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation announced during the visit an investment of $237M in Kosovo’s energy grid.

Unlike Israel and unlike the other nations which have opened embassies in Jerusalem, the population of Kosovo is nearly 100% Muslim. In February of 2021, the opening of the Embassy marked several firsts.

This was not only the first Muslim majority nation, but also the first European nation to open an Embassy in Jerusalem.

In a first that will, hopefully, not be repeated in world history, this diplomatic milestone was entirely virtual. Due to the pandemic, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart signed documents and established diplomatic relations from thousands of kilometers away.

The opening of a Jerusalem Embassy and establishing formal diplomatic ties must only be the beginning.

Muslim-Jewish Chanukah celebrations and education programs about combatting antisemitism have begun.

Equally, important commercial ties are deepening. One of the largest foreign investments in Kosovo is an Israeli-German wind energy project bringing online 27 turbines and hundreds of megawatts in the years ahead.

Before there was a State of Israel or Republic of Kosovo and before there was electricity, there has been a bond between Kosovo Muslims and the Jewish community.

Documents point to family names in Kosovo of Baruch, Ruben, Cohen, Levi and others as far back at the 15th Century – before the Spanish Inquisition.

Yad Vashem has recognized how a Kosovo Muslim smuggled a Jewish doctor out of a Nazi POW camp.

More recently, as antisemitism has had an alarming rise across Europe, six years ago the Kosovo government banned all antisemitic literature. This came on the heels of dozens of books such as Mein Kampf having been translated into the Albanian language. In the same year, would be terrorists were apprehended as they intended attack the Israeli national soccer team at a World Cup qualifying match.

This February Kosovo celebrates its 15th birthday. In May, Israel will celebrate its 75th birthday. This February also marks the historic opening of the Jerusalem Embassy.

The Biden delegation trip to Jerusalem and the Osmani-Kurti delegation trip to Washington were historic. The planning of both quietly happened over the course of months. So too, in the weeks ahead planning should begin by both the Israeli and Kosovo governments for historic – not virtual – delegation visits in 2023.

Deepening ties will serve not only Israel and Kosovo well, but also the broader Middle East and Western Balkans.

About the Author
Ari Mittleman works at the nexus of politics, policymaking and the press in Washington, DC. He has worked with American and international heads of state, elected officials, celebrities and global business and non-profit leaders. As a native Pennsylvanian actively involved in the Jewish community, the tragedy in Pittsburgh compelled him to author his first book, Paths of the Righteous by Gefen Publishing House. A new father, Ari lives in Pikesville, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.
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