WASHINGTON, (October 22, 2020) - In an email dated July 20, 2020, Dr Anthony Harper alerted Ambassador Robert S Gilchrist, the U.S. Ambassador in Lithuania, of the danger of further desecration of the Shnipshok cemetery in Vilnius.
Dr Harper is a White House spokesperson in the White House, covering Anti-Semitism and Religious Freedom issues.
The Shnipishok cemetery was desecrated by the Lithuanian government in 2005. Accordingly the government was reprimanded for its actions by a resolution passed by the U.S. Congress (H.Con.Res. 255 (110th)),dated October 2, 2008, which stated: "Congress is outraged by the construction that occurred within the perceived boundaries of the historic Jewish cemetery located in the Snipiskes area of Vilnius, Lithuania."
Dr. Harper included in his email to the Ambassador, a letter by U.S. Senator James Risch, Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Pat Roberts. In that letter, the senators state that they see any construction on the sacred Vilnius Jewish cemetery grounds as an act of desecration, a point made in a news meeting with several high profile rabbis and the Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel:
The letter of concern from the senators to the Lithuanian government, is the cause of a familiar ring, reminiscent of the reprimand which the Lithuanian government received through the passing of the 2008 U.S. Congress resolution. These warnings however have been largely ignored, at best deflected through misrepresentations and assurances that the plan for the conference center development is “glutt kosher.” In some cases,” say community leaders, “Lithuanian diplomats denied that there would be any development of a conference center on the historical cemetery.”
Earlier in the year, Dr. Harper had met with Senator Risch who stated that the Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States had assured him, that the conference center “will not be built on the cemetery.” See coverage of Dr. Harper’s meeting.
Dr Harper highlighted the problem which the development of a conference center on a Jewish cemetery would pose. World authorities on Jewish law have asserted that the construction of a conference center on the cemetery constituted desecration as it cannot be used for any purpose other than a cemetery.
Dr. Harper also highlighted the unfortunate stonewall treatment which Rabbis had received, in their efforts to prevent the development of the conference center and consequent desecration of the cemetery.
Dr. Harper has expressed concern that comments from Jewish experts had been ignored. “Most importantly, legitimate Jewish groups are being deliberatively excluded from the process,” wrote journalist Dr. Anthony Harper. “This is preventing them from being able to contribute to the narrative and in finding an amicable solution.”
Recently, both an Israeli rabbinical court and the Conference of European Rabbis stripped the Committee to Preserve Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), of any authority to act on behalf of the European Jewish community.
A Jewish community member in Vilnius provided some color to the potential travesty which threatens to desecrate the graves of over 50,000 Jewish souls. “The CPJCE was used to illegally rubber stamp the government plan to build the conference center and desecrate the cemetery. Everyone here is patently aware that building a conference center on a cemetery, is unlawful and contrary to Jewish law,” the community spokesperson said.
In fact Turto Bankas, the government owned land bank and lead developer of the proposed conference center, made extensive representations to concerned parties declaring that development would be conducted under rabbinical supervision. This claim turned out to be false.
On September 16, 2020, the Congress for European Rabbis (CER) issued a statement, stripping the CPJCE of authority to represent any Jewish community. This effectively negates any agreement which may have been inked with the Lithuanian government or the developers of the conference center. The CER is Europe’s leading rabbinical alliance representing some 700 Orthodox rabbis in mainstream communities in over 50 European countries.
Separately, Dr. Harper interviewed President Trump’s Counselor/Advisor KellyAnne Conway at the White House, in the James Brady Press Room on December 16, 2019. During that interview Ms. Conway condemned the desecration of the Jewish Cemetery by the Lithuanian government stating “”President Trump is appalled by the desecration of all Jewish cemeteries.”
Human rights watch groups claim that the Lithuanian government’s treatment and support for the desecration of the cemetery is reminiscent of antisemitism in pre-war Germany, perpetrated in a cruel draconian fashion.
Following up from his in-depth investigation into the Lithuanian government’s misstep, Dr. Harper confirmed in an interview with Newsrael that that the source for the willful desecration of the cemetery by the Lithuanian government, was antisemitism.
President Trump has been vocal with his opposition against cemetery desecration and more recently, Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern stated that the President stood firmly against the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.H
About this story:
How a few Lithuanian diplomats hoodwinked the world into believing that the desecration of a Jewish cemetery was kosher.
Writer: Jonus Norkus
About the Writer: Jonus Norkus is a freelance writer who covers human rights violation and news in Jewish communities.
Email: [email protected]