Ever since the 13th century there has been a recorded Jewish community of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in the city of Belgrade. The first Jews to settle in the city originally arrived from Italy and the city of Dubrovnik, and later on from Hungary and Spain.
The Jewish communities of the Balkans saw significant influx in the 15th and 16th centuries by the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish refugees into his Empire. Jews became involved in trade between the various provinces in the Ottoman Empire, becoming especially important in the salt trade. In the northern province of Vojvodina, which was under Austrian rule, Jews settled in the 18th century, particularly after the 1782 Edict of Tolerance by the Emperor Joseph II, which gave Jews as measure of religious freedom.
The Jewish community developed substantially before and after World War I following the religious autonomy they have received, and many Jewish educational institutions and synagogues for both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities were established. By the year 1939 there were approximately 10,400 Jews living in Belgrade.
Most of the Jews living in Serbia were killed during the Holocaust. During the war many Jews were given refuge by the Yugoslav Partisans, led by Josip Broz Tito, and many of them fought along their side. Serbian civilians were involved in saving thousands of Yugoslavian Jews during this period. After the war, most of those who survived gradually emigrated to Israel.
According to the 2011 census, there are 578 declared Jews in Serbia, living mainly in Belgrade and Vojvodina.
SFR Yugoslavia and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1948. Until 1952, a total of 7,578 Jews emigrated from Yugoslavia to Israel. During the period, Yugoslavia was mostly neutral in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but maintained ties with Israel, helped by its sizable Jewish emigration.
Yugoslavia severed all diplomatic relations with Israel following the Six-Day War in 1967, and it was following a pro-Arab policy since. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, newly formed FR Yugoslavia renewed the relations on January 31, 1992, seeking for certain international support as it was practically isolated from the international community during the Yugoslav Wars.
In 1995, Israeli weapons supplies showed up amongst Serbian militants in Bosnia. However, at the time it was not clear how extensive the supply was, or whether they were provided by state or private arms dealers, or whether the Israeli government had even known or approved of such transfers.
It was subsequently reported that Israel had purposely provided weapons to the Serbs during the Bosnian War, possibly due to the pro-Serbian bias of the government of the time,or possibly in exchange for the immigration of the Sarajevo Jewish community to Israel. The Mossad allegedly was responsible for providing Serbian groups with arms.
Israel refused to support the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, leading to admonishment from the United States. Ariel Sharon criticised NATO's bombing as an act of "brutal interventionism". In the first detailed Israeli response to the NATO campaign against Belgrade, Sharon said both Serbia and Kosovo have been victims of violence. He said prior to the current Yugoslav campaign against Kosovo Albanians, Serbians were the targets of attacks in the Kosovo province. "Israel has a clear policy. We are against aggressive actions. We are against hurting innocent people. I hope that the sides will return to the negotiating table as soon as possible." During the crisis, Elyakim Haetzni said the Serbs should be the first to receive Israeli aid. "There are our traditional friends," he told Israel Radio." It was suggested that Sharon may have supported the Yugoslav position because of the Serbian population's history of saving Jews during the holocaust. On Sharon's death, Serbian minister Aleksandar Vulin stated: The Serbian people will remember Sharon for opposing the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia and advocating respect for sovereignty of other nations and a policy of not interfering with their internal affairs. It was suggested that Israel's pro-Serbian position may have been a result of the Serbian population's history of saving Jews during the holocaust, personal memories of which were still present among many older Israeli politicians serving in government at the time such as Tommy Lapid.
Israel does not recognise Kosovo's independence as a sovereign state. This decision is regarded in part due to the possibility of the Palestinian Authority using such a recognition to justify their own unilateral declaration of independence. However, In 2011 Serbia voted to recognize Palestine as UNESCO's 195th member, against Israel's wishes. Belgrade declared that it would not have opposed a resolution recognizing Palestinian sovereignty, had one come before the UN General Assembly. On the other hand, the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina blocked the Bosnian recognition of Palestine to UNESCO.
On April 28, 2009, Arthur Koll, the Israeli ambassador to Serbia, said that though it had been more than a year since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, Israel had no intention of recognising the declaration, and that "Israel is asked from time to time how solid this decision is, but the fact is that Israel's position has not changed throughout this time. The Serbian people and government should appreciate Israel's position, which also demonstrates the friendship between the two states.". In September 2009, during an official visit to Belgrade, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also reaffirmed that Israel would not recognise Kosovo, but hoped the issue would be resolved peacefully.
Economic ties between Israel and Serbia have been rapidly expanding since 2009, in part due to the abolition of visa restrictions between the two countries in September of that year. On February 1, 2012, Serbian president Boris Tadić noted during a ceremony marking 20 years to the renewal of diplomatic ties that Israeli companies have invested more than a billion euros in infrastructures in Serbia.
In October 2009, Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić paid a visit to Israel, during which an agreement was signed between the two governments on cooperation in the fight against crime, illegal trade and abuse of narcotics and psychoactive substances, terrorism and other serious criminal acts.
Since the abolition of visa restrictions between the two countries in September 2009, the State of Israel has been promoting Serbian tourism to Israel through the Israeli embassy in Belgrade. These efforts include annual advertisements on billboards and public buses in Belgrade presenting Israel as a sea & sun summer destination under the title "Oseti Izrael" ("Feel Israel"). In 2011 the Israeli embassy initiated a tourism campaign titled "Ja volim Tel Aviv" ("I Love Tel-Aviv"), which included the construction of a "beach" in Novi Sad meant to simulate a typical beach in the Israeli city of Tel-Aviv and be used as a venue for parties and different activities promoting tourism to Israel. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, during 2011 4,700 Serbians visited Israel as tourists, compared to 3,000 in 2010 and 1,400 in 2009.