Lithuanian Jewish leader sorry for insulting Russian-speaking Jews

(JTA) – The contested leader of Lithuania’s Jewish community apologized for the publication of an article on the community’s website accusing her opponents of being Russians claiming to be Jews.

The apology Friday by Faina Kukliansky, chair of the LZB umbrella group of Lithuanian Jewish organizations, followed the publication Wednesday of an article on the LZB website about an election that day for the board of the Jewish community of Vilnius, the capital – LZB’s largest affiliate. Kukliansky declared the election void after a critic of her administration, Simonas Gurevicius, won the vote in Vilnius.

The LZB website referred to people who voted for Gurevicius as “mainly Russian speakers calling themselves Jews, with only a minority of people with Litvak blood.” The statement said the vote took place while “military exercises are currently underway rehearsing the scenario of Lithuania and Poland under attack” – a clear appeal to Lithuanian nationalism amid fear of Russian expansionism. The statement angered many Russian-speaking Lithuanian Jews. Some of them said it reinforced a recurrent claim popular among anti-Semites who claim Lithuanian Jews are Russian stooges.

Kukliansky on Friday said in a statement: “We apologize for the appearance on the community webpage of a hasty, unedited news item.”

In 2013, Lithuania’s Jewish community began receiving $41 million in restitution funds for communally owned property stolen during and after the Holocaust.

On Friday, Kukliansky won a separate election for the leadership of LZB. Gurevicius told the Lithuanian media he will contest the result in court, citing a controversial and last-minute change to the voting procedures. The change last month, which assured Kukliansky’s victory, gave Vilnius delegates on the LZB board the same electoral weight as any other municipality despite the fact that the vast majority of Lithuania’s 3,000 Jews live in Vilnius.

“Why doesn’t anyone complain that the United States only has one vote at the UN, the same as Lithuania?” Kukliansky told the Lrytas news website in defending the change. She said opposition to her was motivated by greed and thirst for power.

Notwithstanding, Kukliansky made another statement that many members of her community interpreted as alluding to foreign involvement in favour of her rival.

“I believe Gurevicius’s true and powerful supporters still haven’t shown themselves,” she told Lrytas.

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