176252 10/31/2008 15:35 08BUCHAREST851 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL R 311535Z OCT 08 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8853 INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L BUCHAREST 000851
FOR DRL AND EUR - EUR/CE A. SCHEIBE; EUR/OHI C. KENNEDY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/30/2028 TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, RO SUBJECT: JEWISH CEMETERY DESECRATION: A PROFESSIONAL JOB?
Classified By: CHARGE JERI GUTHRIE-CORN FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (SBU) On October 22, vandals destroyed 131 graves in Bucharest's main Jewish cemetery. The desecration was a brazen and systematic attack targeting the most valuable and elaborate tombstones in the graveyard, with damages estimated at one million dollars. The Romanian Prime Minister and Ministry of Justice issued strong written condemnations. The Bucharest police have unconvincingly claimed that the attack was not necessarily anti-Semitic. The investigation is ongoing and police interviewed a witness who reportedly saw six large men congregated in the 16 hectare graveyard. The Vice-President of the Jewish Federation alleged that two men -- one a Romanian-American and the other Israeli -- planned the attack as an attempt to discredit the Federation following a dispute over land controlled by the Jewish Federation, where the cemetery is located. End summary.
A Well-organized Attack
2. (SBU) Jewish Federation Vice-President Paul Schwartz retraced the steps of the attackers with Poloff on October 30. The vandals appeared to have entered the Federation-controlled cemetery late in the afternoon on October 22 by scaling an 8-foot high cement wall in a remote, weed-covered corner of the lot. From there, the vandals rampaged along a paved pathway approximately one-third kilometer in length, tipping over and hacking 131 gravestones along the way. They clearly targeted the larger and more elaborate grave markers; most of those toppled were made of marble and weighed between 500 and 1000 kilograms, according to Schwartz. Among those destroyed was a tombstone in the shape of a piano - the burial site of a famous Romanian composer. Simple markers were left untouched, as were those of Jewish victims of Romania's fascist Legionnaire pogroms on the eve of the Second World War. The scope and targets of the damage suggest that the attack was planned in advance, efficient in its execution, and carried out with tools such as crowbars and clubs.
A Vulnerable Cemetery - and Community
3. (U) The incident has highlighted vulnerabilities among Bucharest's 4,000 member Jewish community. Callers have been flooding the Federation wanting to know if their relatives' tombstones escaped harm. The severe damage to the graves, and lack of funds available to fix them from either the local Jewish community, two thirds of whom are elderly or ill, or from the Jewish Federation, means that either the Romanian Government or external sources will have to assist to repair the damage. Also at issue is how to prevent future attacks. The 16-hectare, 40,000-tomb cemetery occupies a huge swath of neglected land on the industrial south side of town. Its concrete, flat-topped wall can easily be scaled if two individuals work together. Although the main entrance sits in front of busy thoroughfare, it is otherwise surrounded by quiet, empty side streets and semi-vacant land. This same sense of abandonment pervades the interior; as we re-traced the attackers' steps during our 75-minute, late-morning visit, we saw only one visitor and a couple of mangy dogs.
Condemnations and Investigations
4. (SBU) The Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Justice issued strong written condemnations of the attacks on October 23. A police spokesman initially stated that the attack was not anti-Semitic in intent. This statement clearly was premature because the investigation had only begun. (Comment: As our prior Religious Freedom reports state, police and government officials tend to play down such incidents, attributing them to drunks, wayward children, and the mentally ill. Such assertions are not credible in this case. End Comment.) A few days after the attack, the Jewish Federation identified a stone-cutter who reportedly saw six large men in the cemetery during the estimated time of attack. Police reportedly interviewed this individual on October 30.
5. (C) Comment: Schwartz, the Vice-President of the Federation, expressed outrage to Poloff over the desecration and offered the Jewish Federation's prevailing view as to who was behind the attack. The Federation's theory, at this point unsubstantiated by any direct evidence, is that two individuals - a dual Romanian-American citizen and an Israeli citizen of Romanian origin -- paid off the vandals in an attempt to discredit the Jewish Federation by showing that it cannot protect its own cemeteries. In 2006 the Romanian-American in question supported a bill in the Romanian Parliament sponsored by Vadim Tudor, leader of the right-wing, anti-Semitic Greater Romanian Party, to transfer control of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues from the Jewish Federation to the Ministry of Interior. According to Schwartz this individual would have benefited financially had that bill become law. Meanwhile the Israeli implicated by the Jewish Federation, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, wrote a front-page editorial for the October 31st edition of Romania Mare, the far-right newspaper of the Greater Romania Party, claiming that the passage of Tudor's bill would have prevented the October 22 incident from occurring. In the piece, the author charges the Jewish Federation with being unable to protect its own properties. End Comment.
6. (C) The Bucharest Police are still investigating. They claim they will find the perpetrators. Mission will continue to monitor the progress of the investigation into this crime.