Nati Meir
Photo: AP
Corneliu Vadim Tudor
Photo: AP

'Israelis think I'm trash'

Convicted of fraud, hated by Jewish community, supported by prisoners, Nati Meir wants to be president of Romania. Barely speaking language and having no real platform doesn't seem to matter

BUCHAREST - Nati Meir is counting the days until May 19. The Romanian referendum deciding on the impeachment of president Traian Basescu for alleged abuse of power is less than three weeks away, and when decided, Meir expects to be able to announce he's running for president of Romania.


Oddly enough, this native of Afula, who was elected to parliament as part of the nationalist party Partidul România Mare (The Greater Romania Party, PRM), lead by Corneliu Vadim Tudor – a known holocaust denier - doesn't enjoy the support of the Jewish community in Romania.


The 'anti-Semite Jew'

Wearing a kippah when swearing in, traveling with Tudor to Auschwitz, even leaving PRM, all prove futile. The Local Jewish community sees him at the "anti-Semite Jew", and that, he knows, is one of the kinder things they call him.


Considered damaging to Israel's image by Israeli diplomats, and an outcast in his own community, Meir has many supporters as well - five hundred thousand of them to be exact - prisoners and their families, willing to vote for him this instant, due to his extensive lobbying for prisoner rights, and amnesties for those convicted of minor felonies.


Meir came close to seeing the inside of a jail cell himself: A day before swearing in to Romanian Parliament he was convicted by a Haifa court on various charges of fraud, and was sentenced, to three year probation and a fine of 500,000 NIS.


Is this a man fit to run for president of Romania? "If it was up to Israeli votes, I wouldn't stand a chance," he said. "But thank God, I was elected by the citizens of Romania, and I'm never coming back to Israel."


"I stand at attention at Hatikva, and remember my fallen friends at the Yizcor claxon, but I won't allow my son to join the army," he added.


"Nati Meir for president of Romania? how distasteful", said a senior member of the Israeli embassy in Romania.


Born in Afula 52 years ago to parents of Romanian descent, Meir admits to speaking poor Romanian to this day. The language was not spoken in his home, and "the little I know I learned from my grandmother… I'm not ashamed of my Israeli accent, it's what sets me apart" he said.


He served as a gunner in the IDF, and studied mathematics and industrial engineering at Ben-Gurion University. Twice married, he has four children, and 11 years ago, he left Israel with his second wife and their son.


After a short stay in Germany, they finally settled in Romania, "with nothing more than a 100 dollars in our pockets." Returning to Israel in face of hardship, he said, was never an option.


A great disappointment

By 2002 he was a Romanian citizen, but being the owner of three companies wasn't enough, and he found himself - after a meeting with Tudor - involved in politics. "Someone came to me and told me Tudor had information regarding the whereabouts of Ron Arad" said Meir, "so we met for launch."


"Tudor said he could help Israel look for Ron Arad, and that there was an Iranian agent who had relevant information…I contacted the MIA (missing in action) division in Israel, flew in and met Colonel Moshe Zarke."


"Eitan Lapidot, my attorney of 20 years, drew up a contract in which the Defense Ministry agreed to pay 150,000 dollars to the Iranian agent, pending verification of his information… we received blood and saliva samples, but they were not Ron's. It was a great disappointment".


Meir's disappointment grew when he found himself harshly criticized for his actions. "They said I was paid 150,000 dollars, and I wasn't even reimbursed for my expenses" he said.


That was when Tudor, disappointed as well, according to Meir, decided to work for the Jewish people. "He apologized, sent letters to Arik Sharon, and cried when we visited Auschwitz. I believed I was helping this person stop hating Jews. I even brought in Eyal Arad as a political adviser, at Tudor's request".


Arad was the one who suggested Meir tried his luck in politics. Meir took the advice to heart and was elected to parliament in 2004, for Tulcea, where his mother was born.


Two year into Meir's tenure in parliament, Tudor's true colors started reappearing. "He made anti-Semitic remarks and when I suggested he apologize for them he announced – on television – that he was kicking me out of the party."


Leaving România Mare made him an independent member of parliament, but that did little to win him any support from the Jewish community. "They just won't forgive me" he said. "Up until a few years back I had a great relationship with the Israeli embassy here, but since I joined Tudor's party, my family and I are excommunicated."


'Israelis think I'm trash'

"Israelis think I'm trash" he said. "…it's insulting. I didn't do anything to any Israeli living here…maybe they resent the fact that my human resources company outperforms theirs. But that's business."


Waiting for the Jews in Romania to realize the error of their ways, Meir settles for the sympathy he gets from the Romanian people. They, according to him, don't seem to care about the supposed scandals he's involved in.


Meir hasn't decided on a political platform for his future presidential race. "It's too early to tell. The election will take place 3 months after the referendum, and I won't make any statements before speaking with Eyal Arad".


Arad himself is in no hurry to get involved in Romanian politics again. Meir isn't worried. "I've made it without Israeli support once, I can do it again" he said.


Romanian officials have begun investigation him lately, for the alleged money laundering of two billion dollars. His lawyer said he is the victim of Nigerian con men, and Meir doesn't seem fazed. "They'll investigate and find out it's nothing" he said.


"The Romanian people love me. They don't care about all the things written about me" said Meir. "Over the last three years I visited all 56 prisons in Romania. Until I came along, nobody cared about the prisoners rights. I'm the only one fending for them. They call me 'the messiah'".


פרסום ראשון: 05.08.07, 15:01
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