Israel to open embassy in Lithuania

Foreign Minister Liberman thanks the Vilnius government for its support at the UN during recent Gaza conflict

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks with the press before entering the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, June 1, 2014. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash 90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks with the press before entering the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, June 1, 2014. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash 90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Thursday that Israel would be opening an embassy in Lithuania, in what he called another indication of improving ties between the two countries.

“The ties between Israel and Lituania have grown much stronger in recent years and that is expressed, among other things, by the opening of a Tel Aviv-Lithuania air service, and the development of economic and business ties between the countries in high-tech, technology, and medicine,” Liberman was quoted by Ynet as saying.

The embassy is set to start operating at the beginning of next year in the capital Vilnius.

During an official visit to the country, Liberman met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and other government officials, and thanked Lithuania for its support at the United Nations during the recent 50-day conflict in Gaza.

In July, during a UN debate about the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge, the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, Darius Degutis, condemned the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israel, stressing that Israel had the right to defend itself, and called for a return of Palestinian Authority control to a demilitarized Gaza.

But Jewish and Israeli groups have criticized Lithuania for its attitude toward the Holocaust, specifically what they perceive to be its evasive approach to taking responsibility for the systematic murder of 95 percent of its Jewry at the hands of the local population during World War II, the observance of an EU day of remembrance that equates Soviet and Nazi crimes, and the attempted pursuit of Lithuanian-born Holocaust survivors whom Vilnius has accused of being involved in war crimes for collaborating with the Soviets while fighting the Nazis.

Fueled by hatred for the Soviet occupiers, Lithuania has glorified those who fought them during the war – and as part of this campaign has in past asked Israel to investigate Holocaust survivors.

In 2012, Yad Vashem protested against these actions by uninviting Lithuania’s culture minister, Arunas Gelunas, and the country’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Darius Degutis, from a conference about the prewar Jewish communities of Lithuania.

In April, the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the Lithuanian government of facilitating the glorification of Holocaust-era war criminals.

The accusation followed a march at the time by nationalists in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, also known as Kovno. The marchers carried portraits of the pro-Nazi former ruler Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis. His government helped German troops send 30,000 Jews to their deaths. The marchers on February 16 also carried signs reading: “Lithuania for Lithuanians.”

In June this year Lithuania’s Parliament passed an amendment recognizing Holocaust-era rescuers of Jews as freedom fighters.

The Jewish Community of Lithuania praised the vote. “Finally, the Lithuanian government has expressed its positive attitude toward fellow Jews,” a statement said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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