Kosovo’s Jews cheer their Muslim-majority state’s new deal with Israel

Kosovo’s Jews cheer their Muslim-majority state’s new deal with Israel

For Flori Dedoni, a member of the tiny Jewish community of Kosovo, the news that his country is establishing formal diplomatic ties with Israel is cause for celebration.

Until last week, Israel was among the dozens of countries that had not recognized the Muslim-majority territory sandwiched between Albania and Serbia.

“When someone learns I’m Jewish, they usually ask sometime during the conversation why Israel doesn’t recognize us,” Dedoni said. “Now, finally it’s happening and the feeling is just festive. Plus, I don’t have to explain anymore.”

Israel’s implied recognition of Kosovo is part of a three-way deal announced on September 4 by the White House. According to the announcement, Serbia, which claims ownership of Kosovo’s territory and has fought against international recognition of its declaration of independence in 2008, has agreed to cooperate on some economic issues with the government of the breakaway region.

The deal stipulates that both countries will open embassies in Jerusalem — a development that Israel and the United States are advancing, despite opposition by the Palestinians and the European Union, who say that the city should only be recognized as Israel’s capital after a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The United States is one of the 116 countries that recognize Kosovo, a landlocked nation with about 1.8 million inhabitants with a land area roughly half the size of New Jersey. China, Russia and India, among other powers, have not. Their non-recognition, and that of other important countries including Spain, Israel, Morocco and Ukraine, is believed to be a consistency issue: They fear encouraging unilateral independence declarations in territories they control.

But Israel’s position had been met with incomprehension in Kosovo, whose people are overwhelmingly pro-American and have a long tradition of philo-Semitism. During World War II, Kosovars and Albanians famously rescued local Jews and helped refugees fleeing from other Nazi-occupied countries.

“It’s ironic that Israel doesn’t recognize us,” Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi said in a 2016 interview with Ynet.

Kosovo’s 12-year-long quest for recognition, and the consistent opposition to it by major world powers, have made Dedoni and his wife question whether it is the best place to raise their 7-year-old son, Lior. Dedoni is a technical engineer and member of the World Jewish Congress’ Jewish Diplomatic Corps.

“It creates all kinds of issues, including visa and travel issues, when much of the world doesn’t recognize your country, your passport,” Dedoni said. “We want Kosovo to succeed and wish for it, but with all the difficulties, we were wondering whether it will ever become a fully-recognized country because you also want to give your child the best start in life.”

The Dedonis have been considering immigrating to Israel for a number of years now, but the new Israeli recognition of their country, and Serbia’s apparent amenability to normalizing relations with Kosovo, are giving the Dedonis “new hope” for staying put, he said.

It is unclear whether Israel will officially recognize Kosovo beyond the embassy terms — an anonymous Serbian source told The Times of Israel that an official declaration would “destroy” Israel’s relationship with Serbia.

But, either way, the news has energized the local Jewish community of 100 or so, which is based in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, though it has no synagogue there. Its members meet for Shabbat dinners and on holidays at a hotel in Pristina that is owned by a Muslim Albanian with an interest in Judaism — particularly Kabbalah and the spiritual book of Zohar, Dedoni said.

“There is an atmosphere of excitement” in the community right now, he added.

The Kosovar Jews also love Donald Trump. The US president is not known for his popularity in Muslim countries, where many believe he harbors an anti-Muslim animus, among other reasons, because he has limited travel visas for citizens of several Muslim-majority countries.

But in a Gallup poll from 2018, support for Trump was about 75 percent in Kosovo, higher than anywhere else in Europe (followed by Albania, with 72%). In this year’s Gallup poll, the approval rating in Kosovo rose to 82%, again the highest in Europe.

Dedoni attributes this to reports of the diplomatic deals trickling in this month.

In Kosovo, “Trump is America, and America, and also Israel, stand for success and freedom,” Dedoni said./ibna

Source: The Times of Israel