In recently explaining the story of Purim to a non-Jewish colleague, I used the phrase “expect the unexpected.” At the most basic level, the Megillah is one plot twist after another.
As Israel and world Jewish community celebrate the happiest day of the Jewish calendar, recent weeks have been unsettling and concerning. It is all too easy to overlook positive developments that have largely gone under the radar.
Last week, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković enthusiastically embraced Croatia’s presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Less than two decades ago, this would have been completely unexpected by any observer of Israeli-European relations and student of history.
The IHRA is the sole intergovernmental entity focused on Holocaust-related issues. Begun in 1998 by the former Prime Minister of Sweden, Goran Persson, today, 35 member countries coordinate innovative efforts to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and work to combat Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
PM Plenković framed Croatia’s leadership as both a privilege and a responsibility. He presented a forward-looking theme for the year ahead entitled Future of Remembrance. As society loses Holocaust survivors, the initiative will have the IHRA use the latest technology to preserve memory.
Croatia envisions hosting multiple international conferences so that leaders from the 35 IHRA member nations can share best practices and develop innovative ways to engage new diverse stakeholders. One example is an international conference that will happen in Osijek in September, with a particular focus on the genocide of the Roma.
In his announcement remarks, the Prime Minister specifically referenced concerns over antisemitism and hate speech at sporting matches.
Largely under the radar, the former Croatian Minister of Education, Science, and Sport has spearheaded the remarkably deep and multi-faceted ties between Israel and Croatia. This began in large part as Dr. Dragan Primorac honored lessons taught outside the classroom by his respected Jewish-American professors.
Beginning in 2004, using the full weight of his ministry and incredible creativity for public diplomacy, he coordinated a friendly soccer (football) match between Israel and Croatia. This was the first international match played in Jerusalem in ages and occurred during the height of terror attacks. In 2005, he coordinated with Yad Vashem on introducing training courses for Croatian teachers.
Not coincidentally, in 2005, Israel opened an embassy in Zagreb.
Collaboration amongst educational and scientific institutions deepened during this period (2003 to 2009) while Dr. Primorac was Minister. In the process, Dr. Primorac developed a deep friendship with the late Shimon Peres and his son, Chemi.
This legacy continues.
Two weeks ago, immediately prior to PM Plenković laying out his vision for the IHRA, Dr. Primorac was in Israel as a private citizen.
St. Catherine Hospital of Zagreb, the premier hospital in the region, signed a collaboration with Bonus BioGroup in Haifa. Life-saving cellular therapies for degenerative, infectious, and inflammatory diseases will be further developed in collaboration with Croatian physicians, scientists and their patients.
While the story of Purim is seemingly one coincidence after another, readers of faith realize the holiday shows the hidden hand of the Almighty. It is not a coincidence that the Prime Minister of Croatia has laid out a bold vision for combating Holocaust-denial and antisemitism. Nor is it a coincidence that during this difficult juncture for Israel and world Jewry that a previously unexpected and unthinkable positive story has emerged.