January 17, 2018, Vilnius–An AJC leadership delegation has concluded a two-day visit to Lithuania.
The delegation led by AJC CEO David Harris had excellent meetings with foreign minister Linas Linkevicius; speaker of parliament Viktoras Pranckietis; U.S. ambassador Anne Hall; Israeli deputy chief of mission Efrat Hochstetler and Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, an AJC partner organization.
After the meeting foreign minister Linkevicius expressed via twitter his gratitude to AJC for being “the first Jewish organization to firmly support Lithuania’s fight for freedom.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania also published a press release about the meeting.
AJC also had the opportunity to meet privately over dinner with a group of parliamentarians, former cabinet officials, other prominent Lithuanian leaders and ambassador Hall, organized by Emanuelis Zingeris, a seven-term member of parliament, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and long-time friend of AJC.
A number of dinner attendees were signatories to an open letter published in the Lithuania Tribune which expressed strong disagreement with Lithuania’s unfortunate vote on the recent UN resolution on Jerusalem.
At dinner Mr. Zingeris remarked the “AJC has been a steadfast friend to Lithuania from the very beginning. From being the first Jewish organization to staunchly advocate for Lithuania’s NATO and European Union membership, to establishing the Goodwill Foundation in coordination with the Lithuanian Jewish Community, AJC has been and continues to be a key partner for us. We thank AJC for your continued investment in our success.”
Among the principal topics discussed were: (i) The deepening bilateral relations between Lithuania and the United States and Lithuania and Israel; (ii) Lithuania’s role in the European Union and at the UN; (iii) The possibility for Lithuania to adopt in the near future the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, following its adoption by Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, and the United Kingdom; (iv) Current initiatives being spearheaded by the Jewish community, particularly in matters of restitution and preserving historical memory; and (v) Plans for marking Lithuania’s 100th anniversary and Israel’s 70th anniversary of restored independence in 2018.
“Lithuania is a special country in many ways, and its link with the Jewish people is longstanding, complex and deeply rooted,” AJC CEO David Harris said. He has been a frequent visitor to Lithuania over the past nearly 30 years. “Indeed, it’s impossible to talk about Lithuanian history without the Jewish dimension, and vice versa.”
“Lithuania is also one of Israel’s closest partners in the European Union and its friendship has been proved on multiple occasions,” Harris added. “The same is true at the UN and its specialized agencies, including UNESCO. Lithuania’s recent vote on Jerusalem was disappointing, however, we view it as an aberration to the country’s otherwise strong record.
“And we should never forget how Lithuania, occupied for decades by the Soviet Union, bravely declared its independence in 1990, paid a heavy price in 1991 when Soviet forces unleashed violence against innocent protesters and ultimately managed to secure its freedom and chart its own pro-Western, democratic destiny. This is a remarkable story of the triumph of the few against the many, the thirst for liberty prevailing over the forces of domination and the spirit of a proud people refusing to bend to the will of the oppressor,” Harris concluded.
The AJC meets regularly with Lithuanian diplomats across the U.S. and elsewhere as well as on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly each year.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC director of international Jewish affairs, has been honored by the Lithuanian government and has been a key partner in addressing, and in several cases resolving, major Holocaust-era issues. His role was lauded by ambassador Hall.
The AJC has had frequent contact, beginning in the late 1980s, with professor Vytautas Landsbergis, a founder of Sajūdas, the Lithuanian independence movement. In 1991 the AJC became the first major Jewish organization in the world to call for American recognition of the restoration of full sovereignty for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and later staunchly advocated for Lithuania’s NATO and EU membership. Today the AJC engages on a regular basis with Lithuania through its Warsaw-based Shapiro Silverberg Central Europe Office.
The delegation also included Kim Pimley, chair of the AJC’s International Relations Committee; Simone Rodan, director of AJC Europe and Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of AJC Central Europe. The group was joined by Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.