Israel contemplates forging ties with far-right party accused of Holocaust denial

Middle East Monitor  /  August 4, 2023

Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, is looking to change Israel’s stance toward Romania’s far-right AUR party, known for its anti-Semitic positions and denial of the Holocaust, reported the Haaretz. The move comes as Israel strengthens ties with far-right leaders in Europe and against the advice of professionals within the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust institution.

AUR, an opposition party in Romania, currently holds around 12 per cent of seats in the country’s parliament and espouses far-right nationalist ideologies. It has a troubling history of making anti-Semitic statements and downplaying the scale of the Holocaust in Romania, as well as the country’s complicity in war crimes against its Jewish population.

Previously, the Israeli embassy in Bucharest maintained a policy of avoiding any interactions with AUR. However, under pressure from right-wing Israeli politicians, who have cultivated ties with AUR over the past year, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has ordered a re-evaluation of this policy. Notably, figures like Yossi Dagan, a leader in the West Bank settler movement, and prominent Likud party operatives have been among those pushing for closer relations with AUR.

In the past, AUR has referred to the Holocaust in Romania as a “minor issue” and opposed efforts to introduce Holocaust education in the country’s school system, dismissing them as “ideological experiments” that would be detrimental to education.

Of particular concern is AUR’s praise for fascist Romanian leaders from World War II who were directly involved in the murder of Jews. Some of AUR’s leaders are associated with modern fascist circles inspired by the historic Iron Guards movement, and the party has consistently denied Romania’s responsibility for atrocities committed against Jews during the Holocaust.

Recently, AUR’s leader, George Simion, attempted to improve the party’s public image by cultivating ties with Israeli right-wing politicians and downplaying its anti-Semitic nature. However, his efforts have been met with skepticism. Simion reportedly attempted to downplay the role of Ion Antonescu, a Romanian fascist leader and Nazi collaborator, in the Holocaust, drawing criticism from experts who see this as an attempt to whitewash history.

Cohen’s office asserts that recent attempts by AUR’s leader to change the party’s approach toward Israel and the Jewish world are being carefully examined, with advice sought from Yad Vashem and other authorities, to determine if a genuine change has taken place that warrants a new policy toward the party.

Haaretz has independently confirmed that Yad Vashem is firmly opposed to establishing ties with AUR, raising concerns about potential diplomatic implications should Israel proceed with the move.