An article in CBS News sheds additional information in a long-time civil case between Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic Jewish sect, and the Russian government over tens of thousands of religious books and artifacts that legally and morally belong to the Jewish group. The Jewish group has won a civil case in New York in 2010, but to no avail, since Russia is protected by an American law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, enacted in 1976.
At issue are two collections: 12,000 religious books and manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik revolution and the Russian Civil War nearly a century ago; and 25,000 pages of handwritten teachings and other writings of religious leaders stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II, then transferred by the Soviet Red Army as war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.
Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement within orthodox Judaism, is estimated to have more than 200,000 adherents and to draw perhaps a million to some of its services in about 70 countries It was founded in the late 1700s in Eastern Europe, and has been led through its history by seven "Rebbes," who amassed the books and writings. The group was incorporated in New York City in 1940.
In its filing, the Justice Department said that Chabad's bid for sanctions is precluded by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The department argues that this law doesn't allow a court to compel compliance with an order for property held by a foreign state within the state's own territory.
The department added that even if sanctions were allowed, the judge should not issue them "in order to avoid damage to foreign policy interests of the United States." Court-ordered sanctions in this case would be so far removed from international norms, the department said, "that any foreign government would oppose it. Such an order would risk significant criticism from the international community, and would likely be resisted in this or other cases involving foreign sovereigns."
And the department said that civil sanctions would undermine diplomatic and other efforts, dating as far back as 1933, by administrations and members of Congress of both parties, to get the collections returned.Even so, the chief unanswered question is why the Russian government refuses to hand over the religious books and writings, for which it has no real use. As the CBS article also points out: "Rabbi Yosef Cunin of Chabad comes to Washington about once a month to press the Congress and State Department to seek a resolution. In a recent interview here, he noted the history of anti-Semitism in the Soviet era and during czarist times, when Russians launched pogroms against Jews. 'They need to repent,' he said. 'One way to repent is to return this library. They have no use for these books.'"