By Julia Gorin
On Nov. 4 in Toronto, Haifa University conferred an honorary doctorate degree in philosophy on Jason Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister.
Pro-Israel people certainly have reason to be fans of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government and also of Kenney, who in March condemned Israel Apartheid Week, saying, “The organizers…use the cover of academic freedom to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel…[This] runs contrary to Canadian values of tolerance, mutual respect, and understanding.”
Nonetheless, Kenney’s hero worship of a war criminal should give the pro-Israel community pause. World War II Croatian Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac is, according to Kenney, “one of the great heroes of the 20th Century.” And on his desk Kenney keeps a prayer card with a picture of the Cardinal whom he calls “a kind of martyr for Croatia and the faith.”
The Roman Catholic Stepinac played passive witness to the Holocaust in Croatia, after paving the way for Croatia’s fuehrer Ante Pavelic and his clerical-fascist Ustasha regime. Some of the crimes the regime zealously pursued against Orthodox Serbs in particular were so crude that they revolted some of the on-looking Germans. At the same time, the Germans took note of Croatia’s death camps, the first of World War II.
Though Stepinac parted ways with Pavelic and later attempted to alter his record by noticeably saving a few Jewish and Orthodox victims he helped create, Yad Vashem, well aware of his role in wartime Croatia, repeatedly resisted efforts to honor him as a Righteous Gentile. Haifa University must be aware of this, as well as the fact that the Simon Wiesenthal Center is also suspicious of revised or partial Stepinac imagery being presented to the world.
Kenney’s affinity for Stepinac, no doubt, harkens back to the cleric’s staunch opposition to the suffocating Communism that smothered the Balkans for the decades after World War II. But his record during the war can’t be pushed aside and no amount of revisionist history can erase his role — or that of the priests under him – in the persecution, forcible conversion and death
of so many during that time.
Canada’s conservative government has been singular in its support of Israel, and it was Kenney himself who recently signed the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism, upon which he stated, according to Canadian Friends of Haifa University: “In Nazi Germany the Jews were stripped of citizenship, denied their natural rights, and their very right to exist was called into question.” Ironically, this was exactly what was done to the Orthodox Serbs (and the Jews) in World War II Croatia under Pavelic’s regime and Stepinac’s watchful eye. Something is amiss for Kenney to be so supportive of Israel and the Jewish people on the one hand while also idolizing a person who was a key figure in the demise of Jews and the Orthodox who perished alongside them.
As long as Canada’s immigration minister publicly idolizes Stepinac and benignly presents him to the world as only an anti-communist, a Jewish institution like Haifa University ought to stand clear of helping him enshrine those views.
Julia Gorin is a widely published opinion writer who specializes in the Balkans.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in full at www.jewishledger.com