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December 29, 1989 - Image 116

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ZE'EV CHAFETS

Israel Correspondent

S

everal hundred pro-
testers stood on Tel
Aviv's King George
Street across from Likud
headquarters, waving
banners and shouting
slogans. Blue police lights
flashed, and traffic backed
up. The sound of indistinct,
angry voices filled the air.
From a block away it seemed
like just another Saturday
night demonstration.
From closer up, the
shouted slogans were audi-
ble — and surprising. Not
the usual "Peace Now,"
"End the Intifada," or
"Bread and Jobs," but
something from another
world: "Save Romania,"
"Send Troops," and "Down
with Ceausescu."
A young woman with long
blond hair shook a hand-
painted sign at the massive
Likud headquarters. "Mose
Arens, the foreign minister,
is in there," she said in
Romanian-accented Hebrew.
"We demand that he do
something. The government
must act."
The crowd began to chant
in Romanian: "Ole, ole, ole,
Ceauscescu is finished."
An older man shook his
head. "Don't yell at
Ceausescu," he admonished
the young demonstrators. "If
it wasn't for him, you
wouldn't be here."
As the rest of the world
cheered the Romanian revo-
lution, official Israel reacted
with initial caution and
more than a little am-
bivalence. Last Friday, on
the day that Nikolai
Ceausescu and his wife fled
from the capital, the Israeli
Foreign Ministry issued a
bland statement expressing
"concern" about events in
Romania. Several Israeli
leaders, including Labor
Party head Shimon Peres,
reminded the country that
the Romanian dictator, for
all his bloody megalomania,
had been a friend to Israel
and the Jews.
During his 25-year rule,
Nikolai Ceausescu per-
mitted Romanian Jewry an
unusually high degree of
religious and cultural
freedom. He was also the

96 FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 1989

Artwork by Catherine Kanner. Copyrighte 1989, Catherine Kanner. Distributed by Los Angeles Tome Syndicate.

A Mixed Reaction To
eausescu's Downfall

Some Israelis credit the Romanian dictator,
for all his faults,
with helping Jews emigrate

only Warsaw Pact dictator
who refused to break off dip-
lomatic relations with Israel
following the 1967 War. In
1977, the Romanian
strongman hosted Prime
Minister Menachem Begin
and helped broker the Sadat
peace initiative. When
Israelis were persona non
grata in the rest of the
Communist world, Romania
welcomed Israeli students
and allowed Soviet Jews to
use Bucharest as a transit
station on their way to
Israel.
Even more important,
Ceausescu permitted the
Jews of Romania to leave.
There are currently 400,000
Romanian Jews and their
descendants in Israel
—almost 15 percent of the
entire Jewish population —
and the great majority
arrived during the
Ceausescu years. In 1989
alone, some 3,200 arrived,
and a larger number was ex-
pected next year.
As a result, many
Romanian-Israelis feel
gratitude toward the former
dictator. One of them,
Menachem Ariav, mayor of

the Galilee town of Nazareth
Elit, incurred public wrath
by refusing to remove a
photograph of himself with
Ceausescu.
"Ceausescu protected the
Jews of Romania and helped
them flourish," said Uri
Eliav, chairman of the
Romanian Immigrant Socie-
ty. "It's not at all clear what

"When the
Communists are
deposed, people
will automatically
start looking for a
scapegoat."

will happen under a new,
nationalistic regime. I per-
sonally experienced
Romanian anti-Semitism,
and I haven't forgotten that
200,000 Jews were but-
chered there during World
War II. Whatever else you
can say about him, things
like that didn't happen
under Ceausescu."
Concern about the future
of Israeli-Romanian rela-

tions, and the welfare of the
Jewish community there,
was a major factor in the
understated reaction of
Israeli officials and im-
migrant leaders.
"We have to be extremely
cautious and careful right
now," said Eliay. "There are
still tens of thousands of
Jews in Romania, most of
them old people who live in
Bucharest. Their welfare is
our primary concern; the
general situation in
Romania is of only secon-
dary importance."
Not everyone agreed.
"When brutal mass murder
is being conducted, you don't
content yourself with
`concern'," said dovish MK
Yossi Sarid, of the Citizens
Rights Party. "We should be
expressing disgust, con-
tempt and fury." Sarid, who
has criticized Israeli arms
sales in the past, called on
the government to supply
the Romanian rebels with
military aid.
A good many former
Romanians also expressed
anger at Ceausescu and sup-
port for the rebels. When the
Romanian Immigrant Socie-

ty in Tel Aviv opened a guest
book for citizens to send
messages of condolence or
support to Romania, a good
number were profane de-
nunciations of the dictator,
prior to news of his execu-
tion. And, Mtaccording to
Eliav, about a dozen Israeli
army reserve officers of
Romanian origin contacted
him over the weekend and
volunteered to fight
alongside the rebels.
"Ceausescu was worse
than Idi Amin," said Dana
Guriya, whose family im-
migrated to Israel from
Bucharest in 1971. "The fact
that he was relatively good
to the Jews is meaningless.
And, he wasn't that good,
either. A lot of people had to
wait years for exit permits,
and many of them lost their
jobs when they requested
permission to leave. That's
something people forget."
By last week when it
became clear that the revolt
in Romania would succeed,
Israeli officials scrambled to
adopt a new, more critical
stance. Danny Naveh, a
senior aide to Foreign Min-
ister Moshe Arens, issued a
statement welcoming "the
establishment of a
democratic government in
Romania," and condemning
"the terrible butchery" con-
ducted by loyalist security
forces. Ministry officials also
met with Romanian ambas-
sador Julian Bittliano, who
had declared his allegiance
to the revolutionary forces,
and offered humanitarian
and medical aid.
As revelations of the mass
murder in Romania flowed
in, there were fewer and
fewer Israelis prepared to
say a good word about their
erstwhile benefactor. But
disgust for the former dic-
tator did little to assuage
fears over the fate of
Romanian Jewry.
"When the Communists
are deposed, people will
automatically start looking
for a scapegoat," said a
former Soviet dissident who
knows Romania well. "And
when that time comes, peo-
ple will remember that
Caeusescu protected the
Jews. As a citizen of the
world, I rejoice that he was
overthrown; but as a Jew,
I'm very, very worried."



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