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Washington - Chabad Calls For Sanctions Against Russia

Published on: January 9, 2013 06:58 PM
By: AP
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FILE -  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar (R) during his meeting with religious leaders in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, Russia, 08 February 2012.  EPA/GRIGORY DUKOR/POOLFILE -  Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar (R) during his meeting with religious leaders in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, Russia, 08 February 2012.  EPA/GRIGORY DUKOR/POOL

Washington - A Jewish group and the Justice Department argued in court Wednesday about the best way to get Russia to return the group’s historic books and documents.

The group, Chabad-Lubavitch, wants the judge to impose civil fines on Russia. The department says fines won’t help resolve the dispute and in fact would be counterproductive.

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Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court here had a quick rejoinder: “How can you be counterproductive from zero?”

Justice Department lawyer Joel McElvain said things could go into negative territory, adding that the U.S. government has made progress, albeit “slow and halting,” on the matter. He said that fines would amount to a substantial step backward.

“Am I supposed to accept that as intuitive?” the judge asked.

Chabad lawyer Seth Gerber said he was unaware of any negotiations under way to get the materials back.

Chabad-Lubavitch, based in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, has already convinced Lamberth that it has a valid claim to the tens of thousands of religious books and manuscripts, some up to 500 years old, which record the group’s core teachings and traditions. The judge ruled the records are unlawfully possessed by the Russian State Library and the Russian military archive. And in 2010, he ordered the Russian government to turn them over to the U.S. embassy in Moscow or to Chabad’s representative. The lawsuit is more than eight years old.

Russia says it doesn’t recognize the authority of the U.S. court, and insists the collection is part of the country’s heritage.

After Lamberth’s earlier ruling, Russia completely halted the loan of its art treasures for exhibit in the United States, for fear that they would be seized and held hostage in the court battle. That’s despite Chabad’s assurance in court filings that it will not go after any art deemed culturally significant by the State Department — which is the case for major exhibitions. Such art is already protected from legal claims under the Immunity from Seizure Act.

“That’s a bogus issue anyway — because of that statute,” Lamberth said.

Gerber said the best way to get Russia to cooperate is to impose fines.

“The time has come for the Russians to face consequences,” said Gerber, who participated by teleconference.

Another lawyer for the group, Nathan Lewin, who was in the courtroom, said the fine could be $25,000 or $50,000 a day, although he added he didn’t know what the right amount is.

Lewin said that Russia has deprived the members of Chabad access to the materials for a long time.

“I agree with you,” said Lamberth, who has frequently issued largely unenforceable multimillion-dollar judgments against foreign governments he believes are hostile to this country and have harmed U.S. citizens,

In addition to arguing that fines would hurt efforts to get the collections returned, Justice Department lawyer McElvain said that fines would be “contrary to our foreign policy interests .... and contrary to international norms.” He said they could lead to reciprocal measures against the U.S. in other countries.

There are two collections at issue: 12,000 religious books and manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik revolution and the Russian Civil War nearly a century ago; and 25,000 pages of handwritten teachings and other writings of religious leaders stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II, then transferred by the Soviet Red Army as war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.

Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement within orthodox Judaism, is estimated to have more than 200,000 adherents and to draw perhaps a million to some of its services in about 70 countries It was founded in the late 1700s in Eastern Europe, and has been led through its history by seven “Rebbes,” who amassed the books and writings. The group was incorporated in New York City in 1940.


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Read Comments (16)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 09, 2013 at 07:17 PM Normal Says:

Really amazing that these antisemites want to keep seforim locked up in warehouses so much. "Our heritage....of murder".

2

 Jan 09, 2013 at 10:31 PM Anonymous Says:

maybe the seforim reveals things the russians dont want us to know.

3

 Jan 09, 2013 at 10:01 PM Anonymous Says:

There is a larger issue at stake here. U.S. museums have tens of thousands of priceless antique items on display from dozens of country whose true "ownership" could be subject to challenge. A decision against Russia could open the door to claims against U.S. museums and cultural institutions by foreign entities. Not only would the U.S. lose access to Russian religious art but we would be at risk for similiar proceedings in foreign courts. Its not worth such an outcome just to get access to some seforim the Russians claim is part of their national heritage.

4

 Jan 09, 2013 at 10:59 PM ZR1 Says:

As a Lubavitcher I think this would be counterproductive. Maybe Chabad should start understanding that Putin is dragging Russia back to the dictatorship and mafia days under communism. Don't expect Putin to play nice. Life in Russia is not getting more democratic; on the contrary. So fining Russia would be just asking for trouble. Nothing positive can come from this.

5

 Jan 09, 2013 at 11:03 PM DRE53 Says:

Reply to #1  
Normal Says:

Really amazing that these antisemites want to keep seforim locked up in warehouses so much. "Our heritage....of murder".

Russia would allow chabad of russia to take charge but wouldn't want it deported to the US, which is understandable.
Of course, once chabad US made a whole shtink about this and now that the court is in favor of chabad US, the russians keep the sforim locket up out of fear that it'll be secretly moved to the US by the he'll of US government.
There are enough yidden in russia who can enjoy the collection so why not stop the fight and leave it there?

6

 Jan 09, 2013 at 11:06 PM hershel Says:

Anyone know anything about international collections?
Is there a way to bring these things to the UN?

7

 Jan 09, 2013 at 11:59 PM esther Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

There is a larger issue at stake here. U.S. museums have tens of thousands of priceless antique items on display from dozens of country whose true "ownership" could be subject to challenge. A decision against Russia could open the door to claims against U.S. museums and cultural institutions by foreign entities. Not only would the U.S. lose access to Russian religious art but we would be at risk for similiar proceedings in foreign courts. Its not worth such an outcome just to get access to some seforim the Russians claim is part of their national heritage.

priceless icons,we know because you've said it so many times. the seforim are worth more then all the so called priceless art you mention.

8

 Jan 10, 2013 at 12:27 AM yosher Says:

Isn't lazar buddies with Putin? didn't he give Putin a humanitarian award on behalf of world Jewry, on whose behalf he was not at all authorized to speak.

9

 Jan 10, 2013 at 05:54 AM monalisa Says:

The UN??? They can't get their act together over Iran, you think they'd care about a few "books"????

10

 Jan 10, 2013 at 06:26 AM One Who Remembers Says:

I agree with #4. Chabad is fighting with fire. Is it worth it to risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of Yidden who live in Russia, over those ancient books? There are plenty of Russian nationalists, whom can be unleashed upon the remaining Jews of Russia. We remember the days of the pogroms in Russia, and the religious persecution of Yidden, in that country. Unfortunately, it could be unleashed again, with the drop of a hat. I like Chabad, but in this case, for the good of all of the Yidden in Russia, it must back down.It was not that long ago, that Jews in Russia could not learn Hebrew, have Brit Milahs, bake Matza for Pesach, dance on Simchat Torah (without reprisals from the authorities), make Aliyah to EY, have Bar-Mitzvahs, or live freely as Jews. Yes, a lot has changed in recent years, but as the saying goes, "A leopard does not change its spots"!

11

 Jan 10, 2013 at 07:00 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

There is a larger issue at stake here. U.S. museums have tens of thousands of priceless antique items on display from dozens of country whose true "ownership" could be subject to challenge. A decision against Russia could open the door to claims against U.S. museums and cultural institutions by foreign entities. Not only would the U.S. lose access to Russian religious art but we would be at risk for similiar proceedings in foreign courts. Its not worth such an outcome just to get access to some seforim the Russians claim is part of their national heritage.

If the US museums are not entitled to the stuff, let them return it to the rightful owners. We don't reward thieves, either under US law, or under Jewish law. If the true owner can be identified, the stuff should be returned.

12

 Jan 10, 2013 at 08:18 AM Reb Yid Says:

Reply to #11  
Anonymous Says:

If the US museums are not entitled to the stuff, let them return it to the rightful owners. We don't reward thieves, either under US law, or under Jewish law. If the true owner can be identified, the stuff should be returned.

Exactly. If you think about the government's argument, basically they're saying that they don't want to risk having to return stuff America has that rightfully belongs to other countries.

13

 Jan 10, 2013 at 08:37 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
One Who Remembers Says:

I agree with #4. Chabad is fighting with fire. Is it worth it to risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of Yidden who live in Russia, over those ancient books? There are plenty of Russian nationalists, whom can be unleashed upon the remaining Jews of Russia. We remember the days of the pogroms in Russia, and the religious persecution of Yidden, in that country. Unfortunately, it could be unleashed again, with the drop of a hat. I like Chabad, but in this case, for the good of all of the Yidden in Russia, it must back down.It was not that long ago, that Jews in Russia could not learn Hebrew, have Brit Milahs, bake Matza for Pesach, dance on Simchat Torah (without reprisals from the authorities), make Aliyah to EY, have Bar-Mitzvahs, or live freely as Jews. Yes, a lot has changed in recent years, but as the saying goes, "A leopard does not change its spots"!

Your "saying" is actually a passuk in navi - Yirmiyahu 13:23

14

 Jan 10, 2013 at 03:26 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

There is a larger issue at stake here. U.S. museums have tens of thousands of priceless antique items on display from dozens of country whose true "ownership" could be subject to challenge. A decision against Russia could open the door to claims against U.S. museums and cultural institutions by foreign entities. Not only would the U.S. lose access to Russian religious art but we would be at risk for similiar proceedings in foreign courts. Its not worth such an outcome just to get access to some seforim the Russians claim is part of their national heritage.

Losing access to so called "Russian religious art" is actually a good thing. That "art" is nothing more than abominable icons. No yid is allowed to look at them, they dvarim of avoida zora mamash and thus ossur b'hano, and if you think about it, a goy is much, much better off not looking at them either. So in the best case scenario, if chabad litigants prevail and russians retaliate by denying us access to their abominations, chabad will be doing a major favor not only to ignorant unsuspecting Jews who may want to look at those abominations because they don't know better but also to unsuspecting American goyim who don't know better. A win-win situation if ever I saw one.

15

 Jan 10, 2013 at 07:22 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
ShmuelG Says:

Losing access to so called "Russian religious art" is actually a good thing. That "art" is nothing more than abominable icons. No yid is allowed to look at them, they dvarim of avoida zora mamash and thus ossur b'hano, and if you think about it, a goy is much, much better off not looking at them either. So in the best case scenario, if chabad litigants prevail and russians retaliate by denying us access to their abominations, chabad will be doing a major favor not only to ignorant unsuspecting Jews who may want to look at those abominations because they don't know better but also to unsuspecting American goyim who don't know better. A win-win situation if ever I saw one.

Are you serious?? Russian icons are featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louve, the British Museum and the National Art Gallery just to name a few. However, given the tone of your rant about goyim and avodah zorah, itsl likely you have never visited any of these museums.

16

 Jan 10, 2013 at 09:01 PM esther Says:

Reply to #15  
Anonymous Says:

Are you serious?? Russian icons are featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louve, the British Museum and the National Art Gallery just to name a few. However, given the tone of your rant about goyim and avodah zorah, itsl likely you have never visited any of these museums.

please try not to sound like an elitist snob.traif is traif no matter where it is.

17

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