BUDAPEST (JTA) — Some 200 fundamentalist Orthodox Christians in Moldova took down a public Chanukah menorah and planted a wooden cross in its place.
News footage showed a bearded priest leading the group in chanting anti-Semitic slogans during Sunday’s incident. The menorah had been installed by the Jewish community in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
The group removed the large, metal menorah, which had been set up on downtown Europe Square, and placed it upside down on Stefan cel Mare Square, at the base of a statue of King Stephen the Great. Neither police nor onlookers intervened.
"The Jews can try to kill us, to traumatize our children," but Moldovan Orthodox believers will resist, the priest said, speaking into a sound system. Moldova, he said, was an Orthodox country, and the Jewish people are trying to "dominate people." Allowing the menorah to be set up had been "a sacrilege, an indulgence of state power today," he said.
Justice Minister Alexandru Tanese condemned the incident. The Orthodox Metropolitan promised to investigate and take action, according to reports.
Incitement to racial and religious hatred in Moldova is subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.
"It’s a despicable act. We hope the government will take appropriate action against the perpetrators," said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ, an advocacy group for Jews in the former Soviet Union. "This is obviously something that should never have been allowed to happen."
In neighboring Romania, the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism issued a statement urging authorities to take "immediate measures" against the perpetrators.
"Such an act committed by a priest with the Orthodox Church is totally inconceivable, and it takes us back to the days when the local population, if it did not participate, witnessed with indifference the crimes committed against the Jews," the center’s statement said.
“The Moldovan government and the Orthodox Church must punish the perpetrators of this despicable anti-Semitic crime and send a clear signal to Moldovan society and to the Jewish community that the government and the church will not tolerate anti-Semitism,” said Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
In a letter to Nicolae Chirtoaca, Moldova’s Ambassador to the United States, ADL called on his government “to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of this anti-Semitic crime.” The ADL letter said it was particularly shocked at reports that 15 to 20 police officers were at the site during the protest, but did little to intervene.