(JTA) — Israel’s ambassador to Romania met with the leader of a right-wing political party there that Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, has denounced over past comments about the genocide and World War II.
On Monday, Ambassador Reuven Azar met in Bucharest with George Simion, president of the AUR party, and Yossi Dagan, the chairman of the Samaria Regional Council, an organization of Israeli settler leaders.
Some of AUR’s leaders have defended the record of historical figures who served in the regime of Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu — an ally of Hitler — or were part of the fiercely antisemitic Iron Guard, a revolutionary fascist movement. Last year, the nationalist AUR party issued a statement calling Holocaust education, which had been recently mandated in Romanian high schools, a “minor topic.”
Israel’s ambassador to Romania at the time, David Saranga, argued that the statement fell under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. “We are Christians, so we can’t be antisemites,” AUR member Claudiu Tarziu wrote in response.
Since then, Israel’s government has changed. According to the Times of Israel, lawmakers in the current, historically right-wing government have expressed a desire to rekindle relations with far-right governments across Europe.
Israel’s foreign ministry told the Times of Israel that it agreed to meet with Simion only after his party agreed to four things: that Romania holds responsibility for Jews who were killed in territory it held during World War II; that all parties should adopt the IHRA antisemitism definition; that the the glorification of war criminals, including Antonescu, should be condemned; and that Holocaust education should receive robust support.
Simion issued a statement that hit on those topics but did not support the government’s current Holocaust history curriculum, according to the Times of Israel. And instead of outright condemning Antonescu and Iron Guard figures, Simion wrote, “Romanian criminal legislation punishes severely any manifestations of support … for the war criminals or the members of the Iron Guard who took part to the Holocaust, including Ion Antonescu.”
Yad Vashem did not support Monday’s meeting. “In July, we notified the Foreign Ministry that in our view, the conditions justifying a meeting with the AUR party were not met,” the museum said in a statement. “Over the past few weeks, the Foreign Ministry hasn’t asked again for our opinion and hasn’t updated us on developments.”
Simion also accepted Dagan’s invitation to visit the West Bank. Israel’s i24 news channel reported that Dagan had worked with the foreign ministry for months to arrange the meeting.
Last fall, Israel’s foreign ministry said that it did not have any relations with AUR, after a group of lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party attended a conference hosted by the political party. And earlier this month, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen — who this week was chided after disclosing a meeting with his Libyan counterpart, sparking a crisis there — said a detente with the AUR party was “fake news.”
AUR shocked analysts in a 2020 election, earning 9% of the national vote by capitalizing on anger in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns. They are expected to grow in influence. A prominent figure in the party drew outrage — and distancing from Simion — after he praised an antisemitic fascist Romanian leader from the 1930s on primetime TV last year..