The preservation of Topovske šupe, as part of the Staro Sajmiste Complex, is of great importance. The buildings in their original location are the only evidence of the atrocities carried out there – Alona Fisher Kamm
Speaking at a recent ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Alona Fisher Kamm, expressed concern over the intensification of anti- Semitism among young people, which is particularly noticeable on popular social networks.
Ambassador Fisher Kamm pointed out that Serbia is the first country in Europe, under its law on restitution, to envisage the restitution of property for those Jews killed during World War II who had no heirs.
In this interview for CorD magazine, she adds that the complex of Belgrade’s old fairground, Staro Sajmiste, should be converted into a place of remembrance for the Jews, Serbs and Roma who perished there. The same, according to Ambassador Fisher Kamm, should apply to Belgrade’s Topovske šupe site.
You recently attended a formal ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Speaking on the occasion of that day, you said that anti-Semitism and revisionism are strengthening in the European Union. In which processes do you recognise this trend the most?
In recent years, we have been witnessing an alarming rise of anti-Semitism all around the globe, as well as dangerous tendencies of revisionism and the rewriting of history. Besides physical attacks, there is a growing trend of online anti-Semitism, especially through social media, with a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people and even Holocaust denial among intellectuals.
This demands an adequate response from governments and political leaders. It is of great importance that all democratic countries adopt the definition of anti-Semitism, promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), in the field of law enforcement. Besides legal measures, education should be included in efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
Here in Serbia, you are heavily engaged on the initiative for Belgrade’s ‘Old Fairground’ – the site of a WWII concentration camp – to be converted into a memorial centre. This has been much discussed to date, but so far without result. What do you expect on this front?
Staro Sajmište is, both by its name and as a site, a symbol of the tragic past for the Jews, Serbs and Roma. Hence, every community has the right to commemorate its own victims in its own way. We believe that the law should be adopted as soon as possible and its content agreed by all relevant stakeholders. As a place of remembrance, it would serve as a history lesson for future generations.
There are other known locations in Belgrade, such as the Topovske Šupe WWII concentration camp, where a shopping centre is now scheduled to be constructed. The Jewish community in Serbia is divided on this issue, with some considering that the remains of the buildings that housed the camp should be preserved, while others are of the opinion that a memorial plaque to the Jews who died there should be displayed on the buildings to be constructed. How do you view this development?
Preservation of Topovske šupe, as part of the Staro Sajmiste Complex, is of great importance. The buildings in their original location are the only evidence of the atrocities carried out there.
We think that any solution should be agreed upon by the two sides. Our sincere wish is to see the Balkan region enjoying lasting peace and prosperity in the near future, so that focus would be on economy and well-being
Are you satisfied with the way Serbia has handled the restitution of property belonging to the Jewish community?
Serbia is the first and only country in Europe to adopt the Law on restitution of heirless Jewish property. Israel highly appreciates such a resolution and its implementation, which renders justice to the victims. The success of the Law is in the interest of all, as Serbia can serve as a best practise model to be followed by others.
Last year saw you commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the modern Jewish State of Israel. How would you comment on the fact that no solution to relations between Israelis and Palestinians has been found after seven decades, with the region remaining in a constant state of conflict?
Israel has signed two peace agreements, with Egypt and with Jordan. Relations with the Palestinians are still an important challenge. Over the last few decades we’ve tried to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and in some cases, we were even very close to an agreement, based on compromises that Israel was ready to make. Unfortunately, the Palestinians not only rejected those proposals but in some cases even reacted violently, leading to mistrust between the two sides.
We still believe in a peaceful solution today, but the Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel as the Jewish state, which is our raison d’être. They continue to incite violence against Israel, glorify terrorist attacks and provide financial support to terrorists’ families. If their message changes, they will always find a reliable partner for peace in Israel.
How serious is the Iranian threat for Israel?
During the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian leaders have been celebrating the successful test of a new missile, while crowds chanted “death to Israel”.
The Iranian regime repeats on a daily basis that its wish is to annihilate Israel, while it arms and funds terrorist groups seeking Israel’s destruction.
Forty years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran is led by the same radical regime whose aggressive and hegemonic policy represents a major threat, not only to the stability of the Middle East but to peace and security as a whole. Iran also poses a potential threat to Europe. The international community has to find ways to protect its citizens and formulate an effective programme to counter the Iranian threat.
In Serbia, when it comes to relations with Kosovo, there has been a promotion of the thesis that a “frozen conflict” is not a good solution. From your perspective as the ambassador of a country that does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, how do you view the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
We think that any solution should be agreed upon by the two sides. Our sincere wish is to see the Balkan region enjoying lasting peace and prosperity in the near future, so that focus would be on economy and well-being.
There is growing interest among Israeli IT companies in AI and others are searching for new locations for development centres. In line with Serbia’s EU accession, we see opportunities for Israeli technology in the sector of clean tech and water treatment and management
Speaking in one interview, you expressed hope that Serbia would relocate its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. How would you comment on the lack of support for the U.S. Initiative to relocate diplomatic missions from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel, and 3,000-year-long connection of the Jewish people to the city cannot be denied.
The U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem represents a recognition of reality. To date, a few other countries have already moved their embassies, while others are taking some concrete steps in that direction or declaring their intention to follow the same path. It is a long process, and I am of the opinion that, in the end, countries will understand that recognising reality is not an obstacle for peace, but the opposite.
As a country with a huge cultural and religious heritage, why has Israel chosen – along with the U.S. – to withdraw from UNESCO, which is an organisation dedicated precisely to the preservation of that heritage? We see UNESCO as a professional body that should preserve the cultural and religious heritage of the world.
Unfortunately, it has become a politicised organisation, not only by accepting Palestinians as a member state due to political reasons but also by allowing them and the Arab world to hijack the work of UNESCO for their own cause. A flagrant example would be the resolution adopted by UNESCO in 2016 that denies the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.
Could you explain the background to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to extend permission for the continuation of the international observer mission in the city of Hebron, which has been present since the end of the 1990s?
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was established as a provisional mission more than 20 years ago, and the circumstances have since changed. Our position is that, during its mandate, the TIPH undermined the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in Hebron, instead of acting as a neutral observer.
You stated recently that you consider economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel as an important factor of relations between the two countries. Apart from Israeli investments in real estate developments and increasing numbers of tourists visiting Serbia, where else do you see room to strengthen bilateral cooperation?
Our Embassy places a focus on economic relations between our two countries. In this regard, bilateral trade shows a stable growth trend. Real estate investments still represent the flagship of Israeli investments in Serbia.
Additionally, our companies are also present in the areas of retail, agro-technology, transportation, pharma, system integration, cybersecurity and IT. There is growing interest among Israeli IT companies in AI and others are searching for new locations for development centres.
In line with Serbia’s EU accession, we see opportunities for Israeli technology in the sector of cleantech and water treatment and management. It is important to mention the renewable energy sector, where we had a huge investment of Israeli company Enlight in a Kovačica wind park last year.
The Serbian government appointed Nenad Popović, Minister without portfolio in charge of innovations and technological development, as the Co-chair of the Mixed Committee. We are still waiting for the Israeli nomination and, afterwards, for the first session to be set in Belgrade or Jerusalem
Last year’s visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Serbia included discussion of the activating of the existing joint committee for cooperation between the two countries. How does that committee function today?
The Serbian government appointed Nenad Popović, Minister without portfolio in charge of innovations and technological development, as the Co-chair of the Mixed Committee. We are still waiting for the Israeli nomination and, afterwards, for the first session to be set in Belgrade or Jerusalem.
Could you say something about the effects of the agreement on the avoidance of double taxation and preventing tax evasion, which you co-signed with the Serbian Finance Minister at the end of last year?
We finally signed that specific agreement in November last year. It needs to be ratified by both parliaments during this year and will enter into force as of the next fiscal year. The Agreement will ease investments and business operations of residents and businesses originating from both countries and their subsidiaries.
Late last year saw the announcing of the staging of an agri-business forum between Israel and Serbia that should serve to connect the two countries’ largest producers of food. Are any other details available regarding this gathering?
Israeli companies specialising in irrigation, agriculture chemicals and equipment for greenhouses are already present in Serbia and doing very well. Our Embassy traditionally takes part in the Agriculture fair in Novi Sad.
We hope to this year have new companies on board that are interested in doing business in Serbia. Last year we were busy with lots of activity in the agriculture domain, with the visits of Minister Nedimović in October and Vojvodina’s Provincial Secretary for Agriculture in May. We are negotiating the upgrading and expansion of the existing agreement on cooperation in agriculture, which was signed in 2009.
|REWRITING OF HISTORY
In recent years, we have been witnessing an alarming rise of anti-Semitism all around the globe, as well as dangerous tendencies of revisionism and the rewriting of history
Preservation of Topovske šupe, as part of the Staro Sajmiste Complex, is of great importance. The buildings in their original location are the only evidence of the atrocities carried out there
Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel, and 3,000-year-long connection of the Jewish people to the city cannot be denied