OPINION | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | HUMAN RIGHTS | CEMETERIES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION
JERUSALEM—A 12 September 2018 letter from ten members of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) to Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, was released to the media today. The letter calls on the Lithuanian president to cancel plans for a national convention center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery and to “find a reasonable alternative” for situating the new convention center.
The Israeli parliamentarians’ letter, at the bottom of this report and available from Defending History as PDF, comes on the heels of the recent appeal by three United States senators, and last year’s call in the same spirit by twelve members of the United States House of Representatives. An international petition initiated by a leading member of Vilnius’s Orthodox Jewish community, Ruta Bloshtein, has to date achieved 44,400 signatures. In addition Litvak (Lithuanian tradition) rabbis and rabbinical organizations internationally, along with many other writers from diverse backgrounds, have put in writing unequivocal opposition to the project. Within Lithuanian society, the two leaders of the movement to save the old Jewish cemetery from the convention center are both non-Jewish citizens whose writings and actions are an international credit to the country and its capacity for robust discourse. See the Andrius Kulikauskas and Julius Norwilla sections in DH.
The ten Israeli Knesset members who signed the letter released today represent diverse strands of contemporary Israeli politics, including right and left, religious and secular: Rachel Azaria (Kulanu); Yinon Azoulay (Shas); Israel Eichler (Agudat Yisrael / United Torah Judaism); Dov Khenin (Maki / Chadash); Nurit Koren (Likud); Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid); Michael Malkieli (Shas); Uri Maklev (Degel Hatorah); Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi); Danny Saida (Shas).
Most recently, the democratically elected leadership of the Vilnius Jewish Community put it this way: “In Vilnius, they want to restore a Soviet monster — the Sports Palace — and to dress it up in the modern clothes of a Congress Center, as if there is no better place for a high-status building in Vilnius than the old Jewish cemetery.”
Because of the Holocaust, in which around 96% of Lithuanian Jewry perished, the many thousands of Vilna citizens still buried at the old Piramónt Jewish cemetery, in today’s Šnipiškės district, have no heirs on site to stand up for their human rights. The right of minority cemeteries to be left in peace has been recognized by the United States Congress and the European Union.
It is believed that a tale of woeful corruption, including local building interests and coopted politicians and community leaders, have made use of an allegedly corrupt group of London rabbis, the “CPJCE”, who have been exposed on Wikileaks as demanding secret payments for their “supervision”. A Serious Incident complaint is at present being investigated by the UK Charity Commission in London.
At the end of the day, one of the major issues is equal rights. A historic cemetery of a half millennium’s vintage, housing the remains of thousands of members of the Lithuanian Christian majority and untold numbers of the nation’s scholars and leaders, would not be the choice of venue for a new national convention center. Moreover, an increasing number of Vilnius residents are convinced that the charming Baltic capital deserves a sparkling new and morally clean new congress center where people of all backgrounds feel comfortable celebrating harmony — not boycotting the place for decades to come.Knesset member on Piramont