BUCHAREST, Romania (Sep. 11)
The president and prime minister of Romania have promised a delegation of leading European rabbis that their government will combat anti-Semitism and ensure equal rights for all minorities.
A 10-member delegation of the European Conference of Rabbis, headed by Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of Britain, met for 45 minutes Tuesday with Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Petre Roman.
“The leaders of Romania made it very clear that they want their country to give equal rights and protection to all minorities,” Jakobovits said at a news conference after the meeting.
“They spoke warmly and cordially with us, and understand our concern about anti-Semitism. They would like to see anti-Semitism defeated.” he said.
The prime minister made similar assurances last week to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, who met with him here for 90 minutes Sept. 11.
Roman told Foxman he is committed to strengthening democracy in Romania and welcomes the Jewish community’s participation in drawing attention to racist manifestations. He also spoke of new laws mandating punishment for incitement to hatred.
“While they may not be perfect, he sees no reason why the Jewish community should not utilize the legal and judicial system to protect itself,” the ADL leader said in a phone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York.
Foxman is one of a number of Jewish leaders who have arrived here since the European rabbinic conference scheduled a meeting of its governing board here to express solidarity with the Romanian Jewish community.
NEW ANTI-JEWISH ATTACKS EACH DAY
At the opening ceremony of the meeting Sunday, the chief rabbi of Romania, Moshe Rosen, sounded the alarm about the rise of anti-Semitism in Romania since the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu late last year.
“Some very dangerous fascist and neo-fascist forces” have emerged, Rosen warned. “The democracy that has given us our freedom has also given freedom to our potential murderers.”
“Each day there are new attacks on Jews and Judaism in the many new papers that appear here. I have also received threats on my life. We must not be silent, since our dignity and perhaps our existence is threatened,” he said.
Jakobovits cautioned Tuesday, however, that “we have to keep a sense of perspective. Not every anti-Semitic outrage means that the country as a whole is anti-Semitic, or that pogroms are around the corner. To exaggerate the danger could create panic and undermine the confidence of the Jewish community here.”
Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk of France said he believes most Romanians are not anti-Semitic. “There has been a 50-year vacuum here, and the young generation does not know anything about the Holocaust,” he said. “Some marginal groups here are trying to take advantage of this by stirring up anti-Jewish hatred.”
Rosen viewed the meeting of the rabbinical group as a personal triumph and as a needed boost to the morale of the community.
For the past six or seven months, no high-level Jewish delegations have visited Romania, apparently because of uncertainty about whether Rosen would continue in his post. He had come under fire after the revolution for his close ties to the Ceausescu regime.
OTHER LEADERS ARRIVE
Once the European Conference of Rabbis scheduled its meeting in Bucharest, then other Jewish organizations followed suit. The president of the European Jewish Congress, Lionel Kopelowitz, arrived here last weekend, And Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation, was due here Tuesday.
Other participants in the rabbinic gathering included Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff of Italy, Chief Rabbi Meir Just of Holland, Chief Rabbi A. Guigui of Belgium, Chief Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg of Austria, Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis of Ireland, Rabbi Meir Lewinger of Basel, former French Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat, and Rabbi Moshe Rose of Jerusalem, secretary of the European Conference.
Also taking part in the meeting were Serge Cwajgenbaum, director of the European Jewish Congress; Leon Masliah, director of the Consistoire, the religious organization of French Jewry; and Zvi Fein, director of programs in Romania run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)