NEW YORK (Oct. 3)
Alfred Moses, president of the American Jewish Committee and a longtime advocate on behalf of Romanian Jewry, has been appointed U.S. ambassador to Romania.
The appointment, which was unanimously confirmed last week by the U.S. Senate, has riled some emotions in Romania, where seven Romanian parliamentarians have charged that Moses was a supporter of the late Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Moses, a Washington attorney who in the 1970s was special counsel to President Carter, has vigorously denied this, saying the charges are “absolutely baseless.”
“My dealings with Ceausescu were formal, proper and frigid,” Moses said in a telephone interview from his home in Virginia on Sunday.
The controversy over Moses’ appointment revives old issues about links between Romanian Jewry — which often became a bargaining chip in Romanian-American negotiations during the Communist era — and the Ceausescu dictatorship, which was overthrown in 1989.
The apppointment of the 65-year-old Moses, which has the support of many government officials in Romania, was widely publicized in the Romanian media, with many newspapers profiling him as a well-known representative of American Jewry. He served in a number of AJCommittee post before being elected the group’s president in 1990.
Moses’ appointment also apparently marked the first time that the name of a foreign ambassador was announced before he presented his credentials.
The seven Romanian parliamentarians opposed to Moses sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) last month protesting the nomination.
In it they expressed their opposition to the appointment on “moral grounds,” claiming that Moses “was, for a long time, associated with the Ceausescus; this disqualifies him in the race for the position of ambassador in Romania.”
‘THE ONLY LEVERAGE WE HAD’
They also wrote that Moses, “at Ceausescu’s request, covered, concealed or minimized the situation in Romania when he spoke in front of some committees of the American Congress in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Moses, who said he plans to leave for Bucharest “as soon as possible,” said that Helms “paid no attention” to the letter.
Noting that the Romanian criticism stems from his support for granting Romania most-favored-nation trade status, Moses said, “I supported MFN for Romania, but I used MFN to help Romanians, both those seeking to leave and those not leaving. It was the only leverage we had.”
In his constant pursuit of achieving most-favored-nation trade status in the United States, Ceausescu often used the late Romanian chief rabbi, Moses Rosen, as an intermediary with the United States for MFN status.
Rosen’s support for MFN stemmed from his belief that it was the most tangible way to help the Romanian Jews — both the 400,000 who were allowed to make aliyah and those who remained.
Because of those connections, Romanian Jewry was the only Jewish community allowed to emigrate from a Communist country during the height of the Communist era.
Rosen’s dealings with the Ceausescu regime made him a target of frequent criticism and suspicion as a possible Communist and Ceausescu ally.
Moses, who was also very involved with the issue of Romanian emigration, said he sometimes disagreed with Rosen on the issue, but they became “dear friends.”
Moses said he met with Ceausescu only three times, and that he “negotiated with the Ceausescu government to change the emigration procedures for Jews.”
He also said that despite his support for MFN, Moses conveyed to U.S. officials the “oppressive conditions,” he found following his initial visit to Romania in 1976.
Since Ceausescu was killed by a Romanian firing squad in December 1989 and Romania moved haltingly toward democracy, Moses has spoken up several times against the rise of anti-Semitism.
He sharply criticized Romanian leaders for allowing a statue of World War II fascist dictator Ion Antonescu to be erected last year and warned against attempts to recast Antonescu as a hero.
(JTA correspondent Odette Caufman-Blumenfeld in Iasi, Romania, contributed to this report.)