(photo credit: JEFF BARAK)
The Lithuanian government on strongly denied recent reports that officials attempted to deport Chief Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, who has accused Vilnius of seeking to silence his opposition to a controversial building project.
“Burshtein’s deportation has never been considered by any authorities in Lithuania,” Ramunas Davidonis, an official at the Lithuanian Embassy in Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
Burshtein, who lives in Israel and does not have a residence permit in Lithuania, was about to board a flight leaving the country when an official began questioning him about his travel, Davidonis explained.
Israel and Lithuania maintain visa waiver programs, allowing citizens of countries within the program to visit for up to 90 days without a visa. Lithuania is also a member of the Schengen Area, a European free travel zone, and it was the rabbi’s frequent trips within this zone that prompted an extended questioning, Davidonis said.
Last Thursday, Burshtein wrote on Facebook that an official told him that if he boarded his flight, he would no longer be allowed to enter Lithuania.
“The only reason for this attempt to deport me that I can discern is the rabbinic opposition, and that of many of the Jews in the country, to the destruction of the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius for the construction of a congress and convention center complex,” the rabbi theorized, according to a translation on the Defending History Lithuanian Jewish website.
Burshtein and other rabbis, including ultra-Orthodox leaders such as Shmuel Auerbach, Meir Soloveitchik, Israel Isaac Kalmanovitz and Tzvi Rotberg, believe that the construction would lead to the desecration of graves.
Other rabbis, affiliated with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, however, have endorsed the plan.
Asked about the rabbi’s accusation, Faina Kukliansky, the head of the local Jewish community, said that she does not believe that the government would take such steps.
“Such things do not happen in Lithuania,” she told the Post, adding that while she had no specific information and did not wish to comment further, she believed it all to be “nonsense.”
“The passport control officer mentioned the word deportation several times so I take it as what it means,” Burshtein told the Post