WASHINGTON, October 5, 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, a letter by U.S. Senators James Risch, Ben Cardin and 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 Rabbis and the Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel:
Earlier in the year Dr. Harper had met with Senator Risch who confirmed 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. "Despite assurances from the Lithuanian government that due respect will be appropriated to the Jewish cemetery, according to world experts and authorities on the matter, the construction of a conference center on the cemetery constitutes desecration. This is true even if skeletal remains are removed."
The White House Journalist also highlighted the unfortunate stonewall treatment which Rabbis had received, in their efforts to prevent the desecration on the cemetery. "Secondly and most importantly, legitimate Jewish groups are being deliberatively excluded from the process. This is preventing them from being able to contribute to the narrative and in finding a democratic and amicable solution to the issue."
Recently, both an Israeli rabbinical court and the Conference of European Rabbis have stripped the Committee to Preserve Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), of any authority to act on behalf of the European Jewish community.
A Jewish spokesperson in Vilnius said, "The CPJCE was used to rubber stamp the government plan to build the conference center and desecrate the cemetery. Everyone here knows that it was illegal and contrary to Jewish law."
Dr. Harper previously 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." To watch this video, click on the following YouTube link:
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.
In an interview with Newsrael, Dr. Harper confirmed 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 antisemitism.
THE FULL TEXT OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE LETTER
July 6, 2018
The Honorable Dalia Grybauskaite
President of the Republic of Lithuania
Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania
S. Daukanto aikste 3
Dear President Grybauskaite:
We write to you today to express our concern about the Lithuanian government's plan to
renovate the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports. As you know, this Sports Palace is located on the sacred site of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, dating back to the late fifteenth century.
The Holocaust decimated the very community in whose care the preservation of the cemetery would have been entrusted. The decision of the Soviet regime to build the Palace of Concerts and Sports on the cemetery grounds not only desecrates the holy site, but also reflects a callous disregard for it's tragic history. This historical cemetery is culturally significant to Jewish communities both locally and around the globe. While we appreciate the proposal to include & wing memorializing the cemetery in the conference center, renovating the facility could further desecrate the remains of many of Vilnius’ preeminent Jewish scholars and leaders. We respectfully urge the relevant Lithuanian authorities to reconsider plans to begin renovating the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports in 2021 and instead dismantle and move the facility to another site without disturbing the remains of those buried in the cemetery.
We sincerely appreciate the constructive approach your government has taken to addressing this issue and your willingness to engage with all communities in and outside of Lithuania. It is in this spirit that we make this appeal and hope that we can remain engaged in dialogue about this issue.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator
James E. Risch
United States Senator
United States Senator