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Cablegate: Seas Rickman Scenesetter: Anti-Semitism Rare, but Split In

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: Overt anti-Semitic acts are rare in
Croatia; the Government, NGOs and religious communities work
together to promote tolerance as part of Croatia's recovery from
ethnic conflict which ended eleven years ago. When members of the
Jewish community were harassed in Zagreb in June, the Croatian
Helsinki Committee facilitated a roundtable where GOC officials, NGO
and religious community representatives, diplomats and others
addressed the issue (reftel). Parliament subsequently toughened
penalties for ethnically-motivated crime.
2. (SBU) Croatia joined the Task Force for International Cooperation
on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in November 2005,
and is in the process of rewriting textbooks to teach the Holocaust.
The Ministry of Culture will open a new interpretive center at the
site of the WWII-era Jasenovac concentration camp in November 2006.

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3. (SBU) In August, 18 members of the 1500-member Zagreb Jewish
Community (ZOZ) left to form the rival Bet Israel organization. The
ZOZ leadership interpreted Bet Israel's speedy registration with
state authorities as unfair meddling by Croatian President Mesic,
who has apparently taken sides to support the newer group. The
split is likely to slow down property restitution and the
anticipated reconstruction of the original Zagreb synagogue.
Although the Justice Minister told the Ambassador in July that the
GOC planned to submit the necessary amended legislation (to permit
application for WWII-era property restitution for U.S, citizens) in
September 2006, this has not yet occurred.
4. (SBU) SEAS Rickman will meet with the Minister of Culture, with a
number of officials and teachers involved in Holocaust education,
and with representatives of both Jewish groups in Zagreb. The most
helpful message the two communities could hear would be to focus
jointly and constructively on the goal of rebuilding the synagogue.
5. (U) As noted in the Human Rights Report, anti-Semitic acts are
generally rare in Croatia, where Jews make up less than one percent
of the population. Before the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime came to power
during WWII, the community numbered 23,000; 5000 survived the war
and there are approximately 2000 in the community now, with 1500 of
those in Zagreb. The Zagreb Jewish Community (ZOZ) recently
celebrated 200 years of existence.
6. (U) In June, police pressed charges against a 21-year-old student
for sending threatening e-mails to the ZOZ which insulted victims of
the Holocaust and expressed the hope that Iran would launch a
nuclear attack on Israel. Separately, in June two youths wearing
Nazi insignia verbally and physically assaulted the ZOZ rabbi.
Responding to these incidents, ZOZ and the Croatia Helsinki
Committee sponsored a roundtable discussion on anti-Semitism in
Croatia. Ephraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,
attended, as did representatives of the GOC, the Parliament (whose
Human Rights Committee had quickly condemned the incidents), all
major religious communities, ethnic minorities, the OSCE Mission and
several Embassies (reftel).
7. (U) Following the visit to Zagreb of Pierre Besnianiou, head of
the World Jewish Congress, Parliament in July passed changes to the
Penal Code to clearly define and increase penalties for ethnically-
and minority-motivated hate crime. In November, the Human Rights
Center organized a public discussion titled "All Different - All
Equal" to mark the international day of the struggle against fascism
and anti-Semitism. A GOC spoke about the Council of Europe's
campaign and its implementation in Croatia. The Human Rights Center
director also used the event to present conclusions from an OSCE
meeting on promotion of tolerance titled "Education towards
Promotion of Mutual Respect and Understanding and Education on
8. (U) Croatia joined the Task Force for International Cooperation
on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in November 2005.
To qualify, the GOC had to submit a baseline study addressing many
aspects of Holocaust education. The U.S. was Croatia's "sponsoring"
country and the State Department's Office of Holocaust Issues (OHI)
assisted the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport to prepare its
application for membership and spoke in favor of Croatia's bid.
9. (U) Site of a WWII-era concentration camp, the Jasenovac Memorial
Center intensely cooperates with the USHMM. In 2005, USHMM and
Jasenovac began phase II of their International Partnership Among
Museums (IPAM) program. IPAM is an exchange program which, in
association with the American Association of Museums and U.S.
embassies, partners museums around the world with U.S. institutions
for periods of two to five years. Phase II concentrated on mounting
an educational center at Jasenovac, and educating the Croatian
public about the Holocaust and about the history of the Jasenovac
prison camp. On November 27, Jasenovac will officially open the
permanent exhibit and educational center.
10. (U) In addition to facilitating the IPAM exchange, the Embassy
has also directly supported Holocaust education in Croatia. Working
with the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport, the Embassy has
annually sent 2-5 Croatian high school teachers for summer
teacher-training programs in the U.S., through a cooperative program
among the U.S. Department of State, the Association of Holocaust
Organizations (AHO) in New York, and the United States Holocaust

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Memorial Museum (USHMM). The Embassy also covered the costs of
translating and printing a USHMM teachers guide on Holocaust
education, which is being distributed to all primary and secondary
schools in the country. In 2005, the USHMM participated in the
Ministry of Science, Education and Sport's annual seminar for
approximately 50 high school history teachers on studying and
teaching the Holocaust. In addition, there have been regular
contacts and travel between the U.S. and Croatia of Jasenovac and
USHMM staff.
11. (SBU) Updating textbooks with information about the Holocaust
and the wider issue of anti-Semitism remains a work in progress.
The authors of a 2005 study cited a lack of information on Jewish
ethnic identity and genesis of anti-Semitism. For example, they
observed that existing textbooks implied that racist laws in the
(fascist) Independent State of Croatia had no domestic roots but
occurred exclusively under the influence of Germany. Zagreb
University history professor Ivo Goldstein told the Embassy recently
that a number of high-school textbooks have been updated. The ZOZ,
in cooperation with Yad Vashem and the Visual History Foundation,
hopes to publish by the end of 2006 an analysis of history textbooks
for primary and secondary schools.
12. (SBU) The mostly Ashkenazi 1500-member Jewish Community of
Zagreb (ZOZ) split in August 2006 over a dispute about replacement
of the rabbi and mishandling of proceeds of a parking lot at the
location of the former Synagogue. Some 18 members left the
Community with the rabbi and subsequently established and registered
their new group in October under the name Bet Israel. Bet Israel
elected history professor Ivo Goldstein as president, and
established a small Jewish primary school with teachers who formerly
worked for ZOZ, forcing ZOZ to close its own school, although it
maintains a kindergarten and Senior Center.
13. (SBU) ZOZ leaders subsequently complained to the press and to
the U.S. Ambassador that Bet Israel did not meet the legal
requirements to register as a religious organization, and filed a
lawsuit to annul the registration. ZOZ also alleges that Croatian
President Mesic (who holds a non-partisan position as head of state)
interfered on behalf of Bet Israel. (NOTE: Despite his apparent
slant in favor of Bet Israel, Croatian President Mesic has a long
record of promoting human rights. In September he received the
International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation award in New York. END
NOTE) Relations have deteriorated to the point that ZOZ refuses to
accept any alternative to the de-registration of Bet Israel.
14. (SBU) The split is likely to affect restitution of property,
which has been at a standstill since 2005. Although a previous
government promised to return ZOZ's major claim, the former Chevra
Kadisha building in central Zagreb, only limited progress has been
made by the current government since it came to power in late 2003.
Other ZOZ claims are a holiday resort in Crikvenica and land in the
north of Zagreb. Some property was returned to Jewish communities
in Osijek in 2005, while the site of the former Vukovar Synagogue
was returned in 2004. The GOC is now increasingly reluctant to
pursue property restitution due to the unclear situation with two
potential claimants.
15. (SBU) The GOC in September committed to partially finance
reconstruction of the original Zagreb Synagogue destroyed in 1941.
Under the proposal they would reconstruct 4,000 square meters of the
future Synagogue, about half of the project that ZOZ submitted for
approval in 2004. ZOZ rejected participation in the proposed
working group that would include Bet Israel. In fact, the ZOZ
president recently told Embassy officials that ZOZ would reconstruct
the building on its own, even if it means significant postponement,
rather than work with Bet Israel on the GOC proposal.


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