VILNIUS, (October 16, 2020) — The Lithuanian government has snubbed a U.S envoy’s request for them to relocate their proposal to develop a conference center on a Jewish cemetery.
After the international Jewish community responded with anger to the planned desecration of a Jewish cemetery, U.S. Envoy Paul Packer filed a request with the Lithuanian ambassador in the U.S. for his government to terminate their plan. Paul Packer is the appointed Chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, by President Donald J. Trump.
Many analysts see the U.S. envoy’s failure to prevent the desecration of the Jewish cemetery, as a weakening of the U.S. government’s power of influence, under President Trump’s watch.
In previous administrations, the U.S. government was recognized as a diplomatic powerhouse which was once able to play a significant role in influencing policy in foreign governments. Deals were struck and policy makers admit that a tremendous amount of good was spawned from those transactions. But those days have long gone.
Foreign policy critics say that Trump has focused his efforts on the big fish and in winning praise, such as the Dubai Israel deal. The treaty between the United Arab Emigrates and Israel has reinforced Trump’s reputation as a master of the deal, but his lack of attention to smaller fish has meant that Trump has been unable to gain grass root traction in some segments of the electorate. Political analysts say that his strategy to ignore the smaller players, may be the margin which will keep Trump from victory.
Lithuanian diplomats side-stepped Mr. Packer’s request, cushioning their snub with promises that they would work with the Committee to Preserve Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), to ensure that no desecration took place. The recent stripping of the CPJCE’s authority to represent Jewish communities in Europe (see CER statement) suggest that Lithuanian assurances were a deception and that US officials were played for fools.
A legal action is being initiated by the ancestors of those buried in the Shnipishok cemetery to prevent the development of a conference center on the Jewish cemetery. A move by lawyers for the defendant Turto Bankas, produced a troubling move to reposition the cemetery, by changing border lines on older maps. A change in border lines would legally permit the government to build their conference center and perpetrate wholesale desecration of a Jewish cemetery.
Representatives for the Save Vilna action group, called the tactical move by the bank as “fraudulent and below the belt”. The action by activists from Save Vilna has ignited a call by religious leaders of all faiths, for the government to terminate the Turto Bankas planned desecration of the cemetery.
Many human rights activists believe that the Lithuanian court system is rigged and that the plaintiffs’ efforts to prevent the development of the conference center on the cemetery, will fail. The danger is that an unjust decision could set a dangerous legal precedent, allowing governments to desecrate cemeteries across Europe at their discretion.
The inability to prevent the Lithuanian government from perpetrating discretionary desecration to the Jewish cemetery, is seen as a weakening of the U.S.’s authority to step in and prevent human rights violations when necessary, an option which previous administrations were able to exercise.
About this story:
Mr. Paul Packer made commendable efforts to prevent the Lithuanian government from perpetrating desecration on the Jewish cemetery. However, diplomats hoodwinked him into believing that they would work with the Committee to Preserve Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), to ensure that no desecration took place.
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]