Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta touted his country’s attitude toward anti-Semitism and Holocaust education, claiming on Monday that there was no anti-Semitism in Romania.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ponta admitted that it hadn’t always been so. He had studied the Holocaust at school, he said, but not the Romanian aspect of it. It was only later that he had found out about war crimes. But Romania is now accepting responsibility for its involvement and is also engaged in restitution.
Ponta was in Israel with 13 of his ministers for a government-to-government meeting and to sign a batch of bilateral agreements.
Asked to explain the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe, where by and large Jewish populations are shrinking, Ponta said that populist forces used anti-Semitism for electoral and political purposes. Jews are not the only victims of racist ideologies, he said, citing the Roma in this context and noting that Romanian communities living in the United Kingdom were also singled out for discrimination.
Radical fringe movements usually spring up when countries face economic crises, and politicians in radical and racist parties are looking for people other than themselves to blame, he continued.
Asked about the three teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank two weeks ago, Ponta said, “I’m afraid that minors and civilians are always victims of the lack of the ability of politicians to find solutions. The innocents pay the biggest price.”
Reminded of Romania’s role in facilitating the 1977 meeting between Israel’s then-prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which led to the signing of a peace treaty two years later, Ponta – who was born in 1972 – said he had learned about that only from books.
He learned, too, that after the 1990s, Romania had lost many political contacts in the region, which he said was a pity because “we would love to play today the role that Romania played nearly 40 years ago.”
Nonetheless, he went on, his country is deeply engaged in the efforts of the European Union to find a solution to both the Iranian problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Romania maintains an embassy in Tehran, and Iran has an embassy in Bucharest.
A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states that there are more than 2,500 companies in Romania that have been funded with Iranian capital. However, this was news to Ponta, who said that he was aware of many Israeli investments in Romania, but not of Iranian ones.
Moreover, since he became prime minister, “political relations with Iran are at a low profile,” he stated. In addition, Romania has a strategic partnership with the United States, has sent its soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan and always coordinates with the US and the EU on foreign policy, Ponta said.
In 1967, all Soviet bloc countries severed relations with Israel – with the exception of Romania, which established diplomatic ties in June, 1948.
Ponta believes this was a clever decision by the leadership of the time because of the strong bonds between his country’s Jewish community and Romanian expatriates living in Israel – as well as for economic and cultural reasons.
Disturbed by the number of neofascists and other radicals who were recently elected to the European Parliament, Ponta was proud that none of the 32 Romanians who were elected fell into these categories. None are radical populists, he said.
Despite the establishment of the EU, there have been more than 40 armed conflicts – some genocidal – on European soil since World War II, including the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. However, Ponta was quick to point out that none of these conflicts had been between EU member states, and said that he was personally committed to a more integrated and enlarged Europe.
Romania has declared its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and Ponta is certain that it would benefit Ukraine greatly to become an EU member state. He would also like to see Serbia join the EU, a factor that he thinks would guarantee peace in the Balkans.
His country is perhaps more vocal than some other European nations in siding with Ukraine, due in no small measure to Romania’s natural resources.
Its energy consumption is 75-percent reliant on domestic sources, and only 25% is imported from Russia, said Ponta, while “most other countries around us are 100% dependent on Russia.”
Because Russia is such a strong country, it will always wish to acquire more territory, he contended, citing the annexation of Crimea as a prime example.
To guard against such phenomena, it is important for all the countries of Europe to gain accession to the EU, he continued, noting that even Turkey was a candidate.
Israel, too, seeks closer ties with Europe, though full membership of the EU is a distant possibility.
On previous visits to Israel, Ponta had time to travel around – but on this occasion, other than his visit to Yad Vashem, it was one meeting after another.
During the delegation’s current visit, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz met with his Romanian counterpart, Attila Korodi, and signed a cooperation agreement between the two countries on environmental issues.
The ministers agreed on several future steps in a number of areas, such as the development of environmental technologies, with an emphasis on adaptation to climate change, water innovations and energy efficiency. In addition, Peretz and Korodi agreed to establish a joint working committee in waste management, in which researchers will work collaboratively to promote innovation in managing packaging waste and other materials, the ministry said.
With regard to biodiversity, the Israeli and Romanian environment ministers agreed to evaluate potential cooperation on ecosystems, in particular a project mapping bird migration, the ministry added.
In addition to solidifying the environmental cooperation agreements, the two men also spoke of the need to bring the kidnapped Israeli boys home. Peretz stressed the importance of continued coordination with the Palestinian Authority and the need to resume peace negotiations, while Korodi said that the Romanian government supported dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, the ministry said.
Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.