VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - Attorneys for Turto Bankas, at a hearing dated October 6, 2020 proposed that the Shnipiskok Jewish cemetery in Vinius, Lithuania has moved. Their assertion was in defense to an action being filed against the property bank, to terminate the development of a conference and entertainment center on the cemetery.
The planned development is targeted for the Sports Palace, which expert witnesses have testified in written affidavits lies in heart of the Shipishok cemetery.
Expert witness Dr. Sid Z. Leiman responded in shock. "Cemeteries don't sprout legs and move. The notion that a cemetery can move is preposterous." Jewish leaders have said that the underhanded argument by the bank's lawyers is an example of malicious antisemitism on show.
Legal experts were perplexed by the bank's claim. "Not only is the claim by the lawyers implausible, but it shows the lengths that the developers will go to desecrate the cemetery, land on which the Vilna Gaon was initially buried," one lawyer commented.
Additionally, the government has already certified in private correspondence and in an agreement that the Sports Palace is in the heart of the Vilna Gaon
Jewish groups and international organizations responded in outcry, over the proposed desecration. Further, a rabbinical court in Israel has ruled that the development is contrary to Jewish law and is forbidden. Accordingly, a court order was served on all the parties in the development by Hadad Roth Shenhar and Co., preventing the parties from participating in the initiative. One of the parties includes the Vilnius City Council.
Turto bankas filed a defense for the rabbinical court's injunction claiming that the Israeli rabbinical court does not have jurisdiction.
An international lawyer stated. "It doesn't matter whether the rabbinical court has jurisdiction or not.
"The Jewish court has ruled that the development is a violation of Jewish law. As any development on the "protected" Sports Palace would be a de facto crime against Jewish cultural and heritage, that Israeli court judgement effectively makes the development illegal, according to Lithuanian law."
In the context of Lithuanian law, it is illegal to develop on a protected site, if it violates heritage and cultural considerations as determined by the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Protected Areas December 4, 2001 No. IX-628, Vilnius. Both the Sports Palace and the Shnipishok cemetery have been registered as a protected sites in the land registry.
The steadfast opposition by Turto Bankas attorney, Ernestas Knezevičius and head of its own “Project Unit,” Karolis Maželis, to allow the court to accept the Israeli rabbinical court's decision as evidence, shows just how meaningful the rabbinical court's decision is.
Descendents to over 50,000 Jewish souls who are buried in the cemetery filed a legal action in the District Court of Vilnius (Nr. e2-625-918/2020), to prevent the development and desecration.
Action had been taken by Turto Bankas and the government to solicit a Jewish interest group to validate their development. However, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Congress of European Rabbis issued a statement condemning the proposed development. Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt also stripped the Jewish interest group, supporting the development, of any authority to represent the Jewish community. The condemnation of the conference center development is endorsed by:
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (leading authority on Jewish law)
Rabbi David Lau (Chief Rabbi of Israel)
Rabbinical Court of Rabbi Nissim Korelitz
MKs from the Israeli Knesset,
Rabbi Aryeh Deri (Minister of Interior, Israel)
Congress of European Rabbis
Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Israel
Agudath Israel of America
Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada
NY Board of Rabbis
Chief Rabbi of South Africa
Coalition of Lithuanian Yeshivas
Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A. and Canada
U.S. Senator James E. Risch
U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
U.S. Senator Pat Roberts
Congressman Steven Cohen
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Congressman John Garamendi
Congressman James P. McGovern
Congressman Eliot L. Engel
Congressman Ted Deutch
Congressman Jerrold Nadler
Congresswoman Dina Titus
Congressman Josh Gottheimer
Congressman Alcee L. Hasings
Antisemitic watch groups have condemned the conference center proposal and the action by the bank's lawyers, as an example of textbook antisemitism.
At the court hearing in Vilnius, Judge Aistė Petravičienė requested that 1) further certification be filed to verify that the Sports Palace was located in the cemetery, and 2) supporting documents of identification be submitted, certifying that the plaintiffs are the descendents buried in the respective cemeteries.
The Plaintiffs were represented by Attorney Modestas Sriubas and Attorney’s Salvija Sriubienė. The bank's chief legal representative is Ernestas Knezevičius.
The next court hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2020 (Laisvės Prospect 79A, room 205 [check updates]; case no. e2-625-918/2020).
The anticipated nomination of a new Lithuanian government in recent elections , brings an air of hope that that the new hand at the wheel will usher in global policies which accommodate Jewish cultural and heritage considerations, and that are free from the whip of antisemitism.