Russia-US spar over “seized” Jewish documents

Rabbis from the Jewish orthodox Chabad Lubavitch of New York in Mumbai, India (AFP Photo / Indranil Mukherjee)

Rabbis from the Jewish orthodox Chabad Lubavitch of New York in Mumbai, India (AFP Photo / Indranil Mukherjee)

The Foreign Ministry has expressed outrage after a US court imposes a fine on Russia for its refusal to comply with a 2010 court order to return a collection of religious documents to a prominent US-based Jewish organization.

­The move comes shortly after the Magnitsky Act, which saw US legislators attempting to exert pressure on Russia’s judicial system. A court in Washington is now attempting to penalize Russia for its possession of a collection of books, manuscripts and other Judaic documents.

According to the ruling, Russia would be required to pay $50,000 a day to Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish movement headquartered in New York City, until it releases the Schneerson Library, of which the Jewish group claims rightful ownership.

“It is outrageous that a Washington court has taken this unprecedented step fraught with most serious consequences as the imposition of a fine on a sovereign state,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The ministry statement slammed the US ruling as “exterritorial in nature,” and a violation of international law. Russia considers the ruling to be legally null and void, the statement added.

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department also spoke out against the decision, arguing the court cannot introduce sanctions of this type against Russia, and that such a move would further damage US-Russian relations.

Chabad Lubavitch claimed the Schneerson collection — which includes 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents gathered since the 18th century by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn and his descendants in the Russian city of Smolensk — was illegally seized during a wave of Soviet nationalization projects.

“The Schneerson Library has never belonged to the Chabad; it never left Russia, and was nationalized because there were no legal heirs in the Schneerson family,” the ministry said. “The ‘return’ of these books to the US is therefore not an issue in principle.”

Due to the controversial question regarding the ownership rights of the Schneerson Collection, Russian museums are hesitant to travel to the United States with any exhibitions for fear of them being held hostage in the court standoff.

Robert Bridge, RT