OPINION | GOOD WILL FOUNDATION | VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE | LITVAK AFFAIRS | HUMAN RIGHTS
VILNIUS—The following list of “Statistics: Project Funding Allocations” is a screenshot taken today of the page of that name on the website of the Lithuanian government’s Good Will Foundation (GWF). It is also available (with some browsers) in the alternative interactive Tableau format (below the screenshot).
See also the Foundation’s “Allocations” page containing a single year’s statistics.
The decisions on these allocations are taken by the Foundation’s Board, which has recently been mired in a number of conflicts and scandals, including the financing of armed security guards to exclude from Vilnius’s one surviving synagogue its one long-term resident rabbi, Sholom Ber Krinsky, in the context of a campaign of personal and institutional destruction that has included a now infamous “Schadenfreude pronouncement” on the GWF’s website about the country’s one religious Jewish school, which some saw as picking up on a pernicious and oft-repeated antisemitic trope on “The Jews” being behind on their social security payments. On issues of allocation per se of the monies deriving from the religious properties of the annihilated Jewish communities of Lithuanias, see the recent Forward article and DH‘s response, as well as Rabbi Krinsky’s blog.
The GWF has also used its website to support the alleged conflict-of-interest status of its own board member Herbert Block, who is alleged to have “pulled off” for the Vilnius convention center builders and their political and official Jewish Community partners an amazing “silence” from his “other board” in Washington, DC, the US taxpayer supported Commission for the Preservation [emphasis added] of America’s Heritage Abroad (known for short as USCPAHA). Entirely out of context, the GWF board expressed some glee on its website on Block’s reappointment to USCPAHA in the final lame-duck days of the Obama administration. Block is close to the Satmar group alleged to give “permissions for money” for desecrating cemeteries, including the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius (see Wikileaks, Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, and Defending History reports), and has appeared (with his son in tow) on their U.S. affiliate’s PR photos boasting of “State Department Commission’s Mr. Herbert Block reporting to Satmar Rebba.” During the now infamous April 2015 reception by the then prime minister of Lithuania of the allegedly corrupt London group of grave negotiators (for other people’s graves, that is) known as the CPJCE, the television footage showed the London Satmar-affiliated rabbis being catered to by the government’s specialist on Jewish affairs Lina Saulėnaitė, at a time when her fiancée (now husband), Vytautas Višinskis, was the director of the Good Will Foundation. The web of intrigue, insider dealing, and conflicts of interest swirling around the restitution that was meant for the survival of a small, struggling Jewish community merits serious investigation by anti-corruption watchdogs, as does the lack of provision of “real news” by both the GWF website and the official Jewish Community website which it finances. Neither have even mentioned the international petition initiated by a Vilnius Jewish woman that has to date achieved 39,000 signatures opposed to the “convention center in the cemetery” project.
The GWF’s announced allocations have included €29,000 for a statue of Gandhi and Kallenbach in a remote location in western Lithuania, €28,962 for a single concert by the Israeli Philharmonic, €105,734 for the multimillion dollar Yivo research institute in New York for an academic project, and €193,174 for a “Bagel” project in which Lithuanian PR specialists explain why they, rather than local Jewish people themselves, must represent Jewish causes and interests. The list goes on (see also items enumerated in Rabbi Krinsky’s blog post no. 2, example 3). There is still no confirmation about alleged large secret “scholarships” to political allies and their families that were cited in the recent Forward article.
As for the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s allegedly “helping itself” to monies of the annihilated Jews of Lithuania intended to build the struggling post-Holocaust, post-Soviet local Jewish community, via the Good Will Foundation, new fears have been raised by the recent appointment of Mr. Block to directorship of the American Zionist Movement, whose mission statement leaves little room for the survival of any form of Yiddish language or culture (“one people with a shared history, values and language”). So what does the AZM think about efforts to sustain in life and creative capacity, howsoever modestly, the grand Yiddish legacy of Lithuanian Jewry, now a threatened legacy struggling for minimal survival?
This is on top of Mr. Block’s ties to the Satmar Rebbe of Monroe, N.Y., implicated in the Vilnius cemetery scandal, to the Admas Kodesh group that defames American professor Bernard Fryshman for standing up to save Jewish cemeteries, both boards he is a member of and is regularly flown in to join of the Lithuanian government’s Good Will Foundation, a separate Jewish Heritage commission serving the Lithuanian nationalist establishment’s political interests, and, of course, the taxpayer funded USCPACA that is supposed to “preserve” Jewish cemeteries abroad. Even his admirers have taken to the nickname “Mr. Conflict-of-Interest Block.” Does the American Zionist Movement really think that the people, culture, legacy and language of Lithuanian Jewry are rubbish to the point of their graves being a legitimate source of alleged income for corrupt Satmar sub-groups (who are, incidentally, not particularly known for their Zionism)?
And then there is the most profound conflict of interest of them all: On his many trips to the Lithuanian capital, Mr. Block boasts (accurately) of being a descendant of the great Litvak scholar Chaim of Valózhin, pupil of the Gaon of Vilna. Chaim Valózhiner himself is buried in Valózhin (now in nearby Belarus), but dozens of Mr. Block’s ancestors are buried in the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery that may soon serve as ballast for a convention center where people will cheer, dance, sing, and use bars and toilets surrounded by those ancestors’ graves. What kind of conflict-of-interest Herb (kipa or no kipa) helps to sell the dignity of his ancestors’ graves for a miserable pot of lentils that may leave him and all the other nókh-shleper in the sorry tale right in the trash bin of Lithuanian Jewish history?
But the most current challenge facing the GWF concerns the elections for leadership of both the Vilnius and Lithuanian Jewish communities that are due in April 2017. To date, the GWF financed website has made no mention of these elections. Time is running out for a free and fair election process that is democratically contested.