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White House slams construction of conference center on cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President confirmed that President Donald Trump is appalled at the desecration of the old cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania., 6/07/2020 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 07, 2020) - It was a celebratory affair. The lighting of the Hanukah candles at the White House in Washington. The year is 2019. The guest list reads like a Who’s Who list. Global leaders from all faiths have gathered to be part of this auspicious occasion. Get more info please visit  President Donald Trump

They reflected on a moment in time, over two thousand years ago when the Maccabees waged their battle against the Greeks. The Jewish struggle at that point in history was against religious and spiritual oppression, when the Greeks had taken steps to enact laws which violated the core of Judaism.

Today, that same war is being waged. The battle ground is Vilnius, Lithuania where the Lithuanian government are moving forward with a plan to construct a conference center on an old Jewish cemetery.  The government’s initiative attacks that which is precious to any Jew. The unbroken and unconditional rule that Jewish burial sites remain protected for eternity.

No Jew with any basic sense of integrity will watch the graves of his ancestors being desecrated, without protesting and doing what needs to be done. Consequently, Jews from across the globe have rallied to support this cause, to prevent the desecration of a cemetery where a Jewish luminary, the Vilna Gaon was initially buried, together with tens of thousands Torah sages.

In fact the desecration of a burial site is not a violation exclusive to Judaism. It is a violation of the Geneva Convention and the EU Charter of Human Rights which expressly prohibit the desecration, renovation or construction on a burial ground.

To further the point, an interfaith action committee consisting of spiritual leaders from multiple faiths signed a petition recently, urging the Lithuanian government to cancel plans for the construction of the conference center. According to the petition, the development unequivocally represents a desecration of Jewish graves. The notion that a burial ground enjoys protected rights is a note which strikes the chord for anyone who embraces, even the most basic of ethical standards.

No Jew with even a loose connection with the community will watch the graves of his ancestors being desecrated, without protesting and doing what needs to be done to prevent such a measure. Accordingly, Jews from across the globe have rallied to support this cause.

It was therefore fitting that at the Hanukah event in the White House, President Donald Trump signed an executive order against antisemitism. 

When Dr. Anthony Harper, a White House spokesman for Christian Networks enquired from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, as to the President’s sentiments on the construction of the conference center in Vilnius, Conway’s response was short and clear. “President Trump is appalled by the desecration of the cemetery.”

Kellyanne Conway went further by stating that President Trump opposes the desecration of any Jewish cemetery.  This underscores the importance that the President attaches to safeguarding Jewish cemeteries through the world.

The Lithuanian government’s plan to construct a conference center on the grounds of the cemetery, pits the government in direct conflict with President Trump and the European Union. Both the latter are strong advocates of protecting Jewish cemeteries.

Sam Barker

International Human Rights Watch - Geneva




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