President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Romanian Parliament
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Romanian ParliamentMark Neyman (GPO)

Israel’s outgoing President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday delivered remarks at a joint session of the Romanian parliament, after which he held a meeting with President of the Senate Anca Dana Dragu and President of the Chamber of Deputies Ludovic Orban.

The Romanian parliament consists of two chambers and has a combined membership of some 500 representatives. Because of coronavirus restrictions, 350 members of both houses were present for the President’s speech.

Rivlin began his remarks with the testimony of Romanian-born Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld, obm. Appelfeld told of how his mother was murdered in the street, and how he and his father were sent to the Czernowitz ghetto and from there to a labor camp. He spent the war alone in the woods and came to Israel at the age of 14, where he became one of the most important contemporary Hebrew authors.

The President said, “Aharon Appelfeld is one of very many Romanian-Israelis, including poets, authors, Rabbis, scientists, philosophers, religious leaders and statespeople. But I chose to tell Appelfeld’s story because I felt it tells you something about us, about me, about the Jewish people.

“The Jewish people has a past that is not abstract. It is engraved in our flesh and we carry it with us wherever we go. We bear it on our bodies. We have good memories, and we have bad memories. We do not forget that the Baal Shem Tov and his hasidic movement, were born here. Who can forget? And we do not forget the terrible times, when centuries-old Jewish life was cut short in a place it called home. Who can forget? Yet, we are not stuck in the past. We choose the present and the future. We choose life.”

“Honored friends, a year and a half ago, in January 2020, I had the honor to welcome President Iohannis and leaders from around Europe and the world to Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” said the President.

“Together, we stood and spoke clearly of our commitment to Holocaust remembrance, and no less importantly of our commitment to the present and the future – to fight antisemitism and all expressions of racism and xenophobia. Romania is, today, a true friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the Jewish and democratic state. Under Romania’s presidency, IHRA formulated a definition of Semitism, even when it is presented as innocent criticism of the State of Israel, and we are deeply appreciative of that.”

Rivlin adressed the members of Romania’s parliament, saying, “Honored Members of Parliament, I would like to say to you today that like all democracies, the State of Israel is open to criticism. But we will not accept attempts to weaken us or undermine our right to exist through misuse of violence or international law.”

“The Jewish people and the Israeli people in all its diversity have no conflict with Islam or the Arab peoples of the Middle East. We are fighting dark forces that aim to terrorize and destroy the State of Israel and its people. Iran’s regime of terror and those who collaborate with it in Lebanon and Gaza seek to undermine our right to exist. Israel has the right and the duty to protect its citizens – from the threat of nuclear weapons, from missiles and from terrorism.

“We must take steps on the ground to increase confidence between the two people, confidence that the other side wishes to live in peace, partnership and good relations, side by side. Any contrary actions harm our chances of success and make the vision of peace in the Middle East more distant.

“In a few days we will mark 73 years of friendly relations between Israel and Romania. Over those years, and until today, we have developed trade links, cooperated and shared knowledge over a wide range of fields – agriculture, water, health, high-tech, innovation and technology. We have so much more to learn from each other, to give to each other, to get to know each other, to work together, and I hope that the brave friendship between us only deepens.”

At the end of his remarks, Rivlin noted that although the coronavirus pandemic had delayed his visit, in the end he was able to come: “I am proud to stand here today, the representative of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, holding in my heart and bearing the full weight of responsibility for building the future and addressing the tasks ahead of us. How good to have friends like you, to share the weight of that responsibility and to continue to walk with you on our shared path.”

Following his speech, the Members of Parliament gave the President a long and heartfelt standing ovation in appreciation of his words.