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Romanian president rejects anti-Semitism charge after ministerial veto

Jewish groups also defend Klaus Iohannis from accusation leveled by would-be development minister Ilan Laufer

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis adjusts his tie when arriving at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (AP/Kerstin Joensson)
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis adjusts his tie when arriving at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (AP/Kerstin Joensson)

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian President Klaus Iohannis hit back Wednesday at accusations of anti-Semitism after he vetoed the appointment of a Jewish businessman as development minister in a cabinet reshuffle.

In the changes announced earlier this week, Iohannis — a center-right politician at loggerheads with the ruling Social Democrats — refused to approve the choice of Ilan Laufer, describing the appointment as “unsuitable.”

Laufer, who founded a real estate company and was previously minister of business affairs in 2017, angrily attacked Iohannis on Tuesday, describing his veto as “a new act of anti-Semitism.”

Laufer accused the president of regularly making anti-Semitic statements, blocking the appointment of a Romanian ambassador to Israel, and opposing the move of Bucharest’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Ilan Laufer (screen capture: dcnews.ro)

In a statement Wednesday, Iohannis dismissed Laufer’s comments as “irresponsible,” saying it was “inadmissible for the memory of the Holocaust to be sullied via such attacks.”

A number of historians and representatives of Jewish organisations, such as the head of Romania’s Elie Wiesel Institute, Alexandru Florian, also dismissed Laufer’s comments as “cheap politicizing”, pointing out that Iohannis had been awarded the “Light Unto Nations” honor from the American Jewish Committee in 2017.

In another move that was likely to ratchet up tension between Iohannis and the government on Wednesday, he rejected the justice minister’s new pick for head of the country’s anti-corruption task force, the DNA.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader had nominated Adina Florea to replace Laura Kodruta Kovesi, who was sacked as head of the DNA in July.

Iohannis did not say why he objected to Florea being appointed.

Prosecutors have had some success in clamping down on corruption in Romania, one of the EU’s most graft-ridden countries, but the government accuses them of overstepping their power.

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