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Jewish Leaders Join U.S. Officials to Bid Romania to Quash Anti-semitism

Jewish leaders joined the Clinton administration and members of Congress on the diplomatic road this week, urging the Romanian government to quell the surge of anti-Semitic activity in Romania.

B’nai B’rith leaders met with Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu last Thursday at the State Department to express their outrage at the recent dedications of statues and roads to a former Romanian dictator.

The dictator, Ion Antonescu, was a Nazi collaborator who was executed as a war criminal in 1946. During Antonescu’s rule, from 1940 to 1944, more than 250,000 Jews died in Romanian-controlled territory.

The recent dedication of a statue to Antonescu near Bucharest drew harsh criticism from Jewish groups, who charged that the Romanian government had not adequately spoken out against the display.

Jewish groups were most disturbed by the involvement of members of the local Romanian police in financing the statue, and the fact that a member of the Romanian Cabinet attended the dedication ceremony.

According to State Department sources, Melescanu met last Thursday with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who urged the government of Romania to “clearly condemn political groups attempting to revive extreme nationalism or anti-Semitism.”

Daniel Mariaschin, director of B’nai B’rith’s international, governmental and Israel affairs department, and George Spectre, the department’s associate director, met with the foreign minister and other Romanian leaders the same day.

ROMANIA RECEIVED MOST-FAVORED-NATION STATUS

Following the meeting, Spectre told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Melescanu said the Romanian government is doing what it can to combat anti-Semitism and might pursue legal action against those responsible for the recently erected statue.

Spectre also noted that Melescanu said government workers have been warned that they “can’t participate in something that the government disapproves of — even as a private citizen.”

But the foreign minister also emphasized the difficulty in controlling such activity in Romania because the country is struggling to become increasingly open and democratized, and because most Romanians celebrate Antonescu as an anti-Communist who joined Adolf Hitler in invading the Soviet Union, Spectre said.

The memorial’s dedication on Oct. 22 came one day after Congress voted to grant most-favored-nation status to Romania, thereby giving the country certain trade privileges.

Spectre said that B’nai B’rith, which long supported the trade status for Romania, will be watching the human rights situation there closely.

If anti-Semitic activity continues “without government action, then we will be forced to reassess our position across the board on Romania,” he said, emphasizing that he did not mean it as a threat against the Romanian government.

Such a policy reassessment, he said, would include a review of B’nai B’rith’s support for most-favored-nation status.

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