Romanian PM to 'Post': Romania, Israel share legacies, challenges, hopes

Prime Minister Orban visits Israel and expresses optimism

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER Ludovic Orban delivers a speech in the Romanian parliament in Bucharest earlier this year. (photo credit: GEORGE CALIN/REUTERS)
ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER Ludovic Orban delivers a speech in the Romanian parliament in Bucharest earlier this year.
(photo credit: GEORGE CALIN/REUTERS)
It is not by mere coincidence that I have arrived in Israel at this particular time, under such challenging circumstances that are upon us all. As I have been preparing for my first official visit to Israel as prime minister of Romania, I discovered there is a lot to share between Romania and Israel at all levels.  
This common ground stems sometimes from surprising corners. For instance, the national anthem of Israel, “Hatikvah,” was adapted in 1888 by the composer Samuel Cohen from a Romanian folk song.  
One of the strongest bridges between our countries lies in the legacy of our deeply rooted respective communities that continue to have powerful ties. We are indebted to the community of Israelis of Romanian origin for the widespread appreciation of Romania within Israeli society. Likewise, back home, we are constantly reminded by the small but vibrant Jewish community in Romania of this special link with Israel.
The same Jewish community is among the catalysts of Romania coming to terms with its own dark Holocaust history through legislative and institutional changes: in 2005 we created the government agency – the Elie Wiesel Institute – tasked with activities on Holocaust remembrance, education and research, as well as combating antisemitism. In 2016, while at the helm of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Romania brokered the adoption of the first working definition of antisemitism in Bucharest, now the standard benchmark in the field. Last year, the law on the creation of a national museum of Romanian Jewry and of the Holocaust in Romania was promulgated, while the establishment of the museum is ongoing. We intend to finalize in the coming period the national strategy on preventing and combating antisemitism, xenophobia, radicalization and hate speech. All these actions are in line with the recommendations of the 2004 Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.  
This is how Romania stands firmly against rewriting history as a propaganda tool to serve today’s political agendas, shifting attention and discourse, and, ultimately, evading responsibility. While Holocaust denial and historical revisionism still affect certain European countries, Romania acknowledged its history and lessons learned, aiming at never again repeating crimes that offended, beyond repair, our humanity.
Romania and Israel share delicate and sometimes difficult geopolitical challenges.  
Consistent with its long-term balanced position on the Middle East peace process, Romania welcomed the recent diplomatic breakthrough and the important work done by the US in facilitating the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and, most recently, Sudan.  
Romania remains, as always, ready to extend a helping hand in reaching a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. Let me recall that in a very tense context, Romania was the one that continued to work toward creating bridges in the Middle East. The historic visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem in 1977 was mediated in part via Romanian back channels. Likewise, in 1967, Romania obstinately refused to sign the Moscow declaration of June 9 denouncing Israel as aggressor, and did not join all other Communist states in breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel. Presently, Romania continues to fully support all efforts aimed at restarting direct negotiations for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in accordance with the two-state formula and in conformity with international law.
Nowadays, our bilateral cooperation covers a broad spectrum ranging from economic, technical and agricultural fields, to youth, sports and culture. Conducting joint research and fostering innovation, also in the framework of Horizon Europe EU program, as well as cooperation in the energy field are areas of mutual interest and expertise. We look forward to the next government-to-government meeting scheduled to take place in the first part of 2021 in Bucharest. The recently created working group on stimulating our economic relations, under the coordination of our two foreign ministries, will facilitate greatly the realization of joint projects in areas such as water management, health, new technologies and artificial intelligence.
Both Romania and Israel pay close attention to preventing and combating terrorism. The horrific terrorist acts recently perpetrated in France show us that addressing underlying roots of aggression is our daily duty in internal and foreign affairs, if we are to maintain the democratic values which represent our identity. Hate speech and incitement to hate are unacceptable in all societies.  
In times of crisis, leadership must have the courage to take the necessary decisions. Democracy is solid only when rooted in fundamental rights and rule of law. These principles guarantee that, when values are under strain, a society has the resources to pull through.
In times of crisis, we look for models in championing peace. 25 years ago, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin fell victim to dark extremist forces, paying with his life for his vision and courage. Today we honor his memory and remember his legacy.  
I am optimistic about what the future holds for Romania and Israel, and confident that our partnership of strategic character will become stronger and stronger.