Rabbi in Jackson delegation: 'We took a chance for peace'
May 6, 1999
WOODLAND HILLS, California (CNN) -- Rabbi Steven Jacobs, one of the religious leaders who accompanied Rev. Jesse Jackson to Belgrade, defended their mission to free three captured American soldiers and called Jackson a "master at dealing with evil."
"People can be critical. This is a very critical country," Jacobs told reporters Wednesday at Temple Kol Tikvah. "But we took a chance. We took a chance for peace. We took a chance that we as religious people might make a slight difference, even with all of the criticisms."
The delegation went to Belgrade last weekend without the support of the Clinton administration and as NATO missiles bombarded the Yugoslav capital. A personal plea from Jackson persuaded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to release all three soldiers after more than a month in captivity.
Jacobs praised Jackson's toughness as a negotiator, citing one instance during a private meeting when Milosevic wanted to release only one of the prisoners, Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone. Jackson flatly refused that offer, Jacobs said.
The rabbi disregarded suggestions that the delegation was manipulated by the Belgrade government, saying humanitarian efforts transcend politics and opinion, and as religious leaders, "This is what we do."
Referring to Milosevic as "evil incarnate," Jacobs confessed that as a man of faith it was difficult at times to balance spiritual belief with his personal feelings.
"Our whole lives are instructed to make a friend out of an enemy. I have no expectations that we're going to make a friend out of Milosevic. But it is a command in our life as religious leaders to hold hands even with people that want to kill us," he said.
The rabbi added that the delegation was not in fear of being killed, either by stray NATO missiles or Yugoslav troops.
"The Yugoslavian government didn't want to have blood on their hands of American religious leaders coming over," he said. "We didn't live in fear ... Faith was just enormous with this group."
The delegation returned Monday after successfully securing the release of the soldiers and met with President Clinton later that day.
The three Army soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spec. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas -- are recovering at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
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