An American Diplomat’s Remarkable Role in Rescuing Romanian Jews from the Depredations of Communism

When he visited Bucharest in 1976 as part of an American Jewish Committee delegation, Alfred Moses was approached by two Jews who began to tell him about the pervasive anti-Semitism and official mistreatment meted out to them and their coreligionists. From then on, Moses worked to help Jews leave the country, which at the time was under the tyrannical rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. In the 1990s, he became the U.S. ambassador to Bucharest, and he has recently published a memoir of his experiences. Ben Zehavi writes:

Working with American Jewish and government leaders [from 1976 on], Moses successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to extend the most-favored-nation status annually to Romania in return for, among other things, Ceausescu allowing its Jews to emigrate to Israel. . . . According to its census, there were nearly 25,000 Jews in Romania in 1977. By 1992, there were fewer than 9,000. The last count in 2011 recorded 3,271 Romanian Jews.

Another of Moses’ legacies is the saving of Bucharest’s Great Synagogue, the oldest house of worship in the Romanian capital, in 1985. “I got a call from the Romanian chief rabbi who said Ceausescu was clearing two square miles of downtown Bucharest to clear space for his new ‘City of the People,’ and two of the buildings in the path of destruction were the Sephardi synagogue and the Great Synagogue,” Moses said.

The Israeli ambassador and the mayor of Bucharest tried feverishly to save the edifices and received assurances from Ceausescu that neither building would be harmed. But the ambassador shortly thereafter walked around the block and saw that the Sephardi synagogue was gone. It had been destroyed the night before.

It took the intervention of then-Secretary of State George Shultz to save the Great Synagogue.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Communism, East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Romania

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela