Kosovo officials presses U.S. Jews on Israel recognition

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Kosovo’s deputy foreign minister met with Jewish organizational officials in Washington in part to make the case that Israel should recognize the new country.

Petrit Selimi said his nation’s pro-American tilt and the record of ethnic Albanians protecting Jews during the Holocaust made relations between the two countries a natural.

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“With such a deep, historic link, it’s only natural to have Israeli recognition,” Selimi told JTA on Wednesday after his meetings with Jewish leaders. “Israel is not just a a country, it is an important country, influential in the community of nations.”

Mark Levin, who directs NCSJ: National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, the group that convened the meeting, said Selimi raised the issue of Israeli recognition at the meeting, but there was no commitment from the Jewish groups to press Israel on the matter.

Also present at the meeting were representatives of B’nai B’rith International, the Anti-Defamation League, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Israel has resisted recognizing the nation, despite its ardent pro-Western tilt, in part because of fierce Russian resistance to its independence in 2008 and because of close Israeli ties to Serbia.

Nonetheless, there have been signs in recent months that Israel may be more open to ties with Kosovo.

The Israeli ambassador to Serbia, Yossef Levy, in May spoke at the unveiling of a Holocaust memorial plaque in Pristina.

In his meetings, Selimi also described efforts to reinforce his country’s tiny Jewish community of about 100 and plans to build a museum of Jewish history.

Kosovo, for much of the 20th century a province of Yugoslavia, fought an independence war in in the late 1990s.

NATO nations, spearheaded by the United States, intervened in 1999 with air strikes after massacres of ethnic Albanians allegedly carried out by Serb forces. The United States was among the first nations to recognize Kosovo after its independence declaration.

Selimi also met with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who over the years has spearheaded congressional support for Kosovo.