UK calls on Lithuania to tackle anti-Semitism

Letter calls on country to reverse court decision declaring the swastika part of the country’s “historic legacy.”

lithuania uk 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
lithuania uk 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
LONDON – Parliamentarians and scholars are calling on Lithuania to combat anti-Semitism and distortion of the Holocaust as its London embassy begins a series of Jewish cultural events this week.
A delegation led by MP Denis Mac- Shane and Lord Greville Janner, both leading campaigners in the UK against anti-Semitism, handed in a letter to the embassy on Monday. It was signed by 20 MPs and academics, and called on Lithuania to crack down on anti-Semitism and reverse a court decision declaring the swastika part of the country’s “historic legacy,” thereby allowing its use by anti-Semites at political rallies.
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The letter also highlights that while the Lithuanian government is sponsoring events abroad that promote Jewish life, it is engaged in an increasingly energetic campaign to stop the full the truth about the Holocaust and events of the Second World War from being discussed.
It expresses concern about “the irony of the Lithuanian Embassy in London hosting an exhibition about pre-World War Two Jewish life, titled ‘The Sounds of Silence,’ when debate about the Holocaust is being silenced and distorted in Lithuania.”
The signatories call on the government in Vilnius to tackle anti-Semitism in the media, following headlines accusing “the Jews” of expropriating money from the country, and castigate it for failing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for anti-Semitic acts.
Last year, a pig’s head was left outside the Kaunas synagogue during a Sabbath service.
Lithuania is at the forefront of a right-wing European campaign saying that the Holocaust was no different from the crimes of communism. The signatories said this “double genocide” campaign was aimed at devaluing the centrality of the Holocaust and was supported by “anti-Jewish political groups in the Middle East and other anti-Semitic politicians.”
The letter also accused the country of failing to prosecute a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal since 1991 while instead threatening war crime prosecutions against Lithuanian Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis.
“Sadly, Lithuania is not alone in East European and Baltic states, where nationalist populist politicians have made anti-Jewish themes part of contemporary political discourse,” said MacShane, former minister for Europe and former chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism.
“In Poland, politicians like Michal Kaminski, who recently resigned as chairman of the Conservatives for European Reform group in the European Parliament because he said it was too extremist, are notorious for refusing the apologize for attacks on Jews by Poles in wartime Poland,” MacShane said. “In Hungary, the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik Party got 15 percent of votes in the last election.”
The letter called on the Lithuanian government to take a number of steps to correct the situation and help repair Jewish-Lithuanian relations. This included ending without delay the pretrial “war crime” investigations against Jewish resistance fighters and recognizing the role that Lithuanian organizations played in the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry.
“The Jewish community in Lithuania is being humiliated and the atmosphere of free speech eroded. Jewish history, particularly that of the Holocaust, is being untruthfully rewritten, and anti- Semitism is espoused,” said British academic Danny Ben-Moshe, a signatory of the letter.
“The Lithuanian government may think they can have it both ways – intimidating Jewish life in Lithuanian while maintaining a philo-Semitic image elsewhere – but this letter puts them on notice that the charade is over,” Ben-Moshe said. “As the Lithuanian government seeks to export their policies across the EU, it is clear that this is not just a Jewish concern, but a concern for all those who cherish freedom of debate and oppose ultra- Nationalism.”
Other signatories of the letter included Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office; Joseph Melamed, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel; Uri Chanoch, a board member of the Claims Conference; and descendents of Lithuanian Jews killed in the Holocaust.