JERUSALEM -- Israel issued a stern rebuke Friday to Romania after its president was quoted by a newspaper as saying the Holocaust was "not unique to the Jews."
Israel summoned the Romanian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, ministry spokesman David Saranga said. At the same time, Israel directed its ambassador in Bucharest to submit a strong protest to that government.
This is the second time in two months that Romanian ambassador Valeria Mariana Stoica has received an official protest over a statement about the Holocaust. On June 13, the Romanian government denied there was a Holocaust within its borders. Following protests, the government acknowledged that its former leaders deported and exterminated Jews during World War II.
In an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper published Friday, Romanian President Ion Iliescu said "the Holocaust was not unique to the Jewish population in Europe. Many others, including Poles, died in the same way."
Iliescu noted his father, a communist, was sent to a camp and died a year after his release. "In the Romania of the Nazi period both Jews and communists were treated equally," he said.
Dorel Dorian, a Romanian lawmaker who represents the Jewish community, said the Holocaust has a precise meaning as the attempted mass destruction of the Jews.
"It's true that tens of millions of Poles, Ukrainians, communists and others also died, but for Jews it was a planned process of extermination," Dorian said.
Israel asked the Romanian ambassador to clarify whether Iliescu's statements reflected the view of the Romanian government or just the president, Saranga said.
Iliescu later said he was surprised by Israel's response to his comments.
"I don't understand the reaction. I said the Holocaust was a phenomenon that affected the entire Europe. There is no Romanian, or German or Polish Holocaust. It was a general process, and some of its European components happened on Romania's territory," Iliescu told Romania's Mediafax news agency.
Romania was home to 760,000 Jews before World War II. An estimated 420,000 were killed during the war. More than 20,000 Romanian Gypsies also died after being deported to camps. About 6,000 Jews now live in Romania.