How a Romanian Rabbi Made a Deal with the Devil to Get Jews to Israel

Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule of Romania from 1965 to 1989 stood out for its brutality even among eastern-bloc dictatorships. Yet, unlike his Warsaw Pact colleagues, Ceaușescu did not try to extinguish Jewish life and never severed relations with Israel. In fact, Jewish institutions survived under his rule, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was allowed to provide assistance to Romanian Jews, and a sizable number managed to leave for Israel—in large part thanks to the effort of Romania’s chief rabbi. Liam Hoare writes:

Around 40,000 Jews lived in Romania in 1978, and at that time the community owned 120 operating synagogues, 61 of which had daily morning and evening services. There were Talmud Torah classes and community choirs, kosher restaurants, Jewish cemeteries, magazines in Hebrew and Yiddish, a [communal] seder on Passover, festivities for Hanukkah, Purim, and Sukkot, and a Jewish museum in Bucharest. . . .

Romania was the only eastern-bloc state to maintain relations with Israel after the Six-Day War. . . . Romanian Jews were also allowed to make aliyah, although . . . Ceaușescu turned Jewish emigration into a profit-making venture. . . . It is thought that Israel paid the regime $112,498,800 between 1968 and 1989 for 40,577 Jews, at a price of $2,500-$3,300 a head, at a rate of around 1,500 Jews per annum.

All of this—the survival of Jewish life, the contribution of the JDC, and the continuation of aliyah—was made possible, in no small part, due to the work of Rabbi Moses Rosen. It was Rosen who acted as a conduit between Romania and the United States to help secure the return of the JDC, in turn developing a system of social assistance within the community, and between Romania and Israel to set up the cash-for-olim system that thinned the ranks of Romanian Jewry so dramatically.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy

More about: Aliyah, Communism, East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Romania


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy