Mitchell Bard 
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© Mitchell Bard 2016

What If They Were Jews?

What if they were Jews?

I've asked myself that question for nearly a decade since the Serbs began to ethnically cleanse Bosnia of Muslims. The world's reaction to the slaughter of innocents in what was once Yugoslavia over the past decade is frightening. How can anyone claim the lessons of the Holocaust were learned after the way the West tuned a blind eye to the massacres in front of their faces?

Now before the defenders of the Holocaust's uniqueness (and they are correct in asserting its singularity) begin to dispute comparisons between the two events, let's be clear that the relevant point is not that Slobodan Milosevic is another Hitler, but that a generation that shouts "Never Again!" cannot be silent while atrocities are being perpetrated. No one can claim ignorance this time, so I find it hard to fathom the rationalizations given for doing nothing.

People I respect and usually agree with like Charles Krauthammer have been critical of U.S. involvement in the Balkans. It's not hard to find reasons to oppose intervention: it's a civil war, no vital interests are at stake, the war will become a quagmire. Certainly these arguments have merit, but, again, what if the streams of refugees recounting horror stories to the press were Jews instead of Kosovars? How would we feel about these excuses for inaction?

If anyone were to ask me when I turned against Bill Clinton, who I enthusiastically supported in 1992, my answer would be it was not after he turned on Israel or was caught with his pants down, it was early in his first term when he failed to deliver on his campaign promise to stop the slaughter in Bosnia. That, not his behavior with Monica Lewinsky, demonstrated his moral bankruptcy. And now, seven years later, the President has finally begun to move in the right direction — too late for thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars — but, even now, is holding back by resisting the introduction of ground troops. The war against evil can't be costless. Lives must be risked to save others.

African-Americans, especially, are right to ask, "What about the atrocities committed in Rwanda?" Why are we willing to intervene to stop the massacre in Albania but not elesewhere? Is it because white Europeans are involved in Albania and not poor black tribesmen? Well, of course, we did get involved in Somalia, with unpleasant results. Still, on moral grounds, we should not turn a blind eye to the killing in Africa just because it might be part of a tribal war. The test still should be to ask the question, What if they were Jews?

When I brought up the issue with one friend, his response was that if Jews were involved Israel would take action. I thought that this was an interesting point. Israel is not part of NATO, so it is not presently engaged in military actions, but it has been involved in humanitarian projects and has accepted Muslim refugees. If Jewish lives at risk, Israel would certainly be a haven; refugees seeking escape would not be turned away. As far as military action, it's hard to predict what would happen. Maybe Israel would go to war alone to protect the Jews. It's possible that Israeli action would allow the rest of the countries to justify their inaction. We've seen the lengths Israel was prepared to go to save Jews in places like Entebbe, but a war with a distant country would be a different proposition. I hate to think that we would have to rely solely on Israel to protect Jewish lives in Europe, but the events of the last decade should make us question whether any other nation would be willing to act. At a time when we are commemorating the Holocaust, it is a sobering and frightening thought.

What if they were Jews?