JERUSALEM — A political consultant to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is weighing an offer to work for a right-wing Romanian presidential candidate with a history of antisemitic statements, despite the objections of Israeli Foreign Ministry officials and Jewish communal officials in America.
Eyal Arad, an Israeli public-relations consultant who ran Sharon’s campaigns in 2001 and 2003, is considering an offer to orchestrate the presidential run of the Greater Romania Party’s Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Arad told the Forward that he is waiting to see if Tudor — whom Romanian Jewish leaders have described as an “enemy of the Jews” — repudiates his antisemitic past before making any decision about working for him.
“I didn’t sign an agreement yet with the Romanian party; I am in discussions with them,” Arad said. “The purpose of these discussions is to find out if they seriously intend to cleanse themselves of their antisemitic reputation. If I am convinced that the denunciation is serious and sincere and meaningful, then I can consider it in a positive way.”
Known as the “court poet” during the days of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, Tudor recently caused an uproar in Israel by announcing that he would attempt to erect a statue of slain Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin in the Romanian city of Brasov. The idea, Tudor said in a statement to the Associated Press, was to provide “a proof of the appreciation and respect of the Greater Romania Party and Romanians, in general, toward the Israeli people.”
The plan was criticized by Rabin’s children. In a statement released by the Israeli embassy in Bucharest, they complained: “The whole issue is a false communication spin, and we fully protest Mr. Vadim Tudor’s effort to use Yitzhak Rabin’s memory for his own political profit.”
Tudor established his political party in 1992 and entered parliament. He was founder and — until 2001 — publisher of Romania Mare, or Greater Romania, the popular magazine known for its antisemitic, nationalistic and xenophobic attacks on the country’s Hungarian, Jewish and Roma, or Gypsy, populations.
Tudor is frequently lumped together with Europe’s other notorious right-wing extremist politicians, including Austrian Joerg Haider, France’s Jean Marie Le Pen and Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky, though he is often described as more dangerous than his European nationalist counterparts.
“We think that Vadim Tudor is xenophobic, antisemitic and anti-democratic,” said an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. “We explained to Mr. Arad the Foreign Ministry’s position that he should not cooperate with an antisemitic party. But at the same time we are aware that he is a private person and he has a right to do what he wants to do.”
When Tudor ran for president in 1996, he finished fifth; when he ran again in 2000 –– under the party slogan “Down with the Mafia, Up with the Motherland” –– he finished second, losing in a runoff to Ion Iliescu with 33% of the vote. His Greater Romania Party obtained 22% of the votes in parliamentary elections and became the main opposition party.
Speculation is ripe that Israel would recall its ambassador from Romania if Tudor wins the election in September, just as it recalled its ambassador from Austria in 2000 after Haider’s Freedom Party joined the Austrian ruling coalition.
Arad said he had three discussions with the officials of the Foreign Ministry, including with the deputy director-general and the Israeli ambassador to Romania. But Arad would not confirm or deny that he had held discussions with Sharon.
“I understand the Foreign Ministry’s position, they understand my position,” Arad said. “However, as a general matter, I think that over time it was always the policy of Israel to try to ‘convert’ antisemites and make them see the light, rather than push them to a corner from which they cannot escape.”
This is a fair enough view, according to Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, but “I don’t think an Israeli outfit should tell them what to do in order to qualify. It needs to be something that they themselves understand.”
Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which first opened a branch in Romania in 1886, questioned Tudor’s sincerity. “The record of this man is so steeped in anti-Israel, antisemitic and Holocaust revisionist thinking that it would require a stretch to imagine such a change,” he said.
Arad urged an open mind. “All of us, as Israelis and as Jews,” he said, “have to keep an open mind to the possibility that even someone with the worst record — of words, after all, they were never accused of violence against Jews — might repent, and it is in the interest of Jews and Israelis to see such repentance on condition that it is serious and sincere. My only point would be to keep an open mind about it.”