Russia Slammed for Hoarding Jewish Texts

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Russia’s failure to return artifacts Chasidic Jews abandoned during the Holocaust will cost it more $43 million, a federal judge ruled.
     The nonprofit Agudas Chasidei Chabad says leaders of the Chasidim movement had been fleeing Poland in 1939 when they had to leave behind an archive of 25,000 handwritten pages. Soviet troops caught hold of the archive, “concerning the cultural heritage of [Chabad’s] forbearers,” after they defeated the German army. The materials have remained in Russian control ever since.
     Though the Soviet government had initially planned to return the sacred artifacts in the 1990s, the Russian Federation nullified the order when it took power.
     It’s been five years since Agudas Chasidei Chabad won a default judgment to reclaim their texts and another set of Chasidim books and manuscripts allegedly seized after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
     The Russian Federation and the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication refused to turn over the artifacts, however, leading Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to order civil sanctions.
     Lamberth said last week that the defendants stopped participating in the case after that January 2013 decision.
     As of August 2015, Russia has accrued $43.7 million in sanctions, the court found.
     Though the U.S. advised the court against imposing sanctions, citing potential arm to foreign policy, Lamberth found these concerns unavailing.
     Indeed, though Russia invited Chabad representatives to a meeting in Moscow in February 2013, “Russian President Vladimir Putin then clearly decided not to accept the proposed resolution the next day,” the Sept. 10 decision states.
     Putin had the sought-after collections transferred to “a special department of the Russian State Library at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.”
     Lamberth said Putin’s “bellicose statements … and tit-for-tat litigation instituted in Russian courts” are all that Russia has brought to the table since then.
     “Defendants have given clear indication that they do not intend to comply with this court’s orders,” the judge wrote. “The time has come to give plaintiff some of the tools to which it is entitled under the law.”
     Lamberth also doubted that enforcing sanctions would harm U.S. policy interests.
     “There is simply no evidence on the record that this case has any impact on relations between the United States and Russia outside of this case,” the opinion states.
     Lamberth cited a lack of evidence that Russia poses “any realistic threat … on a matter of political, economic or strategic concern to the United States.”
     “Given the United States’ current sanctions against Russia and Russian interests based upon various geopolitical events, the court is unpersuaded by such a vague concern in this case,” he wrote. “Additionally, the court notes that the Russian minister of culture has reportedly indicated ‘the problem does not lie in relations between Russia and the United States. It lies in relations between Russia and a Jewish community registered in the United States,’ further undercutting the United States’ warning of grave foreign policy concerns.”
     The United States warned that enforcing sanctions reduces the chance of Chabad regaining possession of its artifacts, yet gives Russia an opportunity to wage a retaliatory lawsuit against the United States in its courts.
     Lamberth nevertheless said he “is not persuaded that retaliatory or ‘tit-for-tat’ litigation against the United States should be the basis for shirking its responsibility to make rulings consistent with law.”
     That “would be a troubling precedent indeed,” the decision states.
     The 12-page ruling concludes with an invitation for Chabad to petition for additional judgment of $4,500 every 90 days.

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