CIP Supports Jewish Spiritual Movement Demand for Return of Russian-Held Library
by Stephen Schwartz
The "Schneerson collection" comprises at least 12,000 books and manuscripts collected by the early Chabad religious scholars, supplemented by more recent handwritten memorabilia. Parts of the library were seized by Communist authorities beginning in the 1920s.
Rabbi Yosef Yizchak Schneerson [1880-1950], the sixth rebbe of the Lubavitch Chasidim (a rebbe is comparable to a Sufi grandshaykh or dedebaba in Islam), was forced to flee both Communists and Nazis in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the second world war. He left behind the remnants of the collection that had not previously been confiscated by Moscow.
The "Schneerson collection" is currently held by the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archives. On January 16, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the Russian authorities must pay $50,000 to the Chabad Lubavitch representatives in New York for each day the collection is not returned. Russian officials have opposed this decision angrily and arrogantly.
The Russian government contends that the "Schneerson collection" is state property and cannot be removed from its territory. But "official" excuses for the theft and continued usurpation of the Jewish archive by the Russians, following similar crimes by the German Nazis, are constructed wholly on falsehoods.
It is absurd to imagine that an archive of metaphysical writings can have a "military-historical" value for Russia. It is immoral for the Russian state, as it did in the Communist era, to overrule the right of a religious body to dispose of its documentary endowment. The "Schneerson collection" was expropriated as a form of antireligious terror. The Russian military historians should leave the Chabad adherents alone and the Russian administration should remove itself from consideration of the esoteric principles of the Jewish mystical movement.
Unfortunately, the U.S. presidential administration of Barack Obama attempted to discourage the Jewish petitioners in the "Schneerson collection" campaign from appealing for return of their rightful property. The spurious reasoning of the federal authorities had been that the assertion of religious rights on American soil will interfere with U.S.-Russian relations. But Judge Lamberth found "unconvincing" the argument by the U.S. government "that sanctions would 'risk damage to significant foreign policy interests.' " U.S.-Russian cooperation cannot be founded on acceptance of injustice and lawlessness.
CIP repudiates the Obama posture on the "Schneerson collection," while actively demanding that Russia comply with international standards of cultural preservation and hand over the archive at once to Chabad Lubavitch representatives. CIP and our colleagues throughout the Muslim ummah have made clear that if the Saudi kingdom insists on vandalizing the Islamic architectural assets of Mecca and Medina, it will be the object of Muslim protests. Similarly, if Russia persists in its refusal to return the "Schneerson collection," its rulers should be subjected to institutional boycott by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others concerned for respect to universal history and culture.