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Dehind the Headlines: is New Anti-semitism in Romania Serious Threat or Minor Irritant?

Jewish opinion here is divided over the danger to the Jewish community posed by the resurgence of anti-Semitism since the revolution last December removed barriers to free expression.

Chief Rabbi Moshe Rosen sounded the alarm recently about threats to the physical existence of the Jewish community emanating from stepped-up agitation by “fascist and neo-fascist” circles, which he referred to as “our potential murderers.”

By contrast, Israel’s ambassador to Romania, Zvi Mazel, says there have been very few anti-Jewish incidents and that the anti-Semitic agitation is the work of “marginal” elements. There are more anti-Semitic incidents today in the United States, he points out, than in Romania.

Other critics of Rosen’s viewpoint assert that he is not paying enough attention to the “anti-anti-Semitic” views expressed by mainstream Romanian intellectuals, or to the rising tide of positive interest in Israel.

There are about 20,000 Jews left in Romania, most them members of the Jewish community. The community provides a wide range of religious, cultural, welfare and medical services, most of it funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Anti-Semitism in the last years of the Ceausescu regime was not completely suppressed, although it was controlled. While the Jewish community was well-protected from physical threats, anti-Semites were allowed to express their views through several prominent journals.

In the past nine months since the revolution, anti-Semitism has assumed new forms.

DESECRATIONS IN TRANSYLVANIA

Some of the groups demonstrating against the ruling party, the National Salvation Front, have singled out two political figures for attacks because of their Jewish ancestry: Prime Minister Petre Roman and Silviu Brucan.

Roman, whose father was an assimilated Jew with a high position in the Communist Party and whose mother was a Spanish Catholic, has never considered himself Jewish. Brucan, who was dumped from the leadership of the Salvation Front early this year, is also of partially Jewish background, but does not identify as a Jew.

Earlier this year, a synagogue in Oradea was desecrated, as was the Jewish cemetery in Tirgu-Mures. Both of these town are in Transylvania, where nationalist passions have been inflamed by conflicts between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians.

More recently, extensive anti-Jewish graffiti appeared in the industrial city of Brasov.

Most of the recent expressions of anti-Semitism, however, have appeared in a few of the scores of new weekly and daily newspapers that have hit the streets over the past several months. Most of them are simple, four-page tabloids and, according to local observers, are generally of poor journalistic quality.

The anti-Semitic papers are spewing forth outrageous attacks on Jews and Judaism, in addition to personal attacks on Rabbi Rosen. Some of the recurrent themes in these tirades are that the Jews are responsible for imposing communism on Romania, that Judaism permits sexual perversions and other licentious behavior, and that Jews are disloyal to the Romanian nation.

“This may sound like a strange thing for a rabbi to say,” said Rosen, “but what is being written in the anti-Semitic journals is a more serious threat than the desecration of cemeteries or synagogues.

“There have been hundreds of these articles. The poison disseminated against us each day can be a bomb for us tomorrow,” he warned. “The Jews are suddenly appearing as Satan, as the people responsible for all of Romania’s problems.”

‘WE CANNOT KEEP QUIET’

Some of these journals are published by elements either linked to or inspired by remnants of the Iron Guard, the Romanian fascist movement that conducted anti-Jewish pogroms during World War II.

“Even if we don’t see an immediate threat to our existence from these attacks,” Rosen asserted, “we cannot keep quiet. This would be the wrong tactic. We must strongly oppose these attacks on our human dignity, especially after what happened in the Holocaust.”

Rosen has launched a public relations and political offensive in recent weeks to alert the Romanian public to the dangers of resurgent anti-Semitism.

Earlier this month, President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Petre Roman issued strong statements condemning anti-Semitism that were given prominent coverage in the local media.

But Ambassador Mazel believes that focusing on the anti-Semitic agitation by “marginal” political elements diverts attention from positive and more important development in the mainstream.

“On the whole,” he said, “Romanians are a tolerant people. A great impact in recent months has been made by the Romania-Israel Friendship Society, which is opening branches all over the country.

“A delegation of 20 journalists and others organized by this society has just come back from Israel,” he said, “and the papers here have been full of positive reports about Israel and about the hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews who live there.

“For Romanians, Israel is a great success story,” he explained. “People here have many friends who have moved there over the years.

ANTI-SEMITES HAVE LITTLE IMPACT

“Until now, ordinary Romanians had no way to find out about Israel or to re-establish contact with the Jews who moved there,” he said.”With the positive atmosphere being created in the mainstream, it will be very difficult for the anti-Semites to have much of an impact.”

Mazel’s view is reinforced by Professor Nicolae Cajal, a prominent microbiologist and vice president of the Romanian Academy, who is also a leading member of the Jewish community.

In addition to the journals disseminating anti-Semitism, he said, “we also see articles in other papers that attack anti-Semitism and all forms of chauvinism.

“The ‘anti-anti-Semites’ are definitely more influential today among Romanian intellectuals than the anti-Semites,” he said. “The numbers of the anti-Semites are much smaller in comparison to the others. The anti-Semites can stir up emotions, but they are not a danger.”

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