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Diplomat: Russia has right for tit-for-tat response in US dispute over Jewish collection

September 17, 2015, 15:07 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Russia demands that the US hand back seven Jewish texts from the Russian State Library in Moscow that were loaned to the US Library of Congress in 1991 but were never returned
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© ITAR-TASS/Sergey Bobylev

MOSCOW, September 17. /TASS/. Moscow has a legal right to insist on the arrest of US property as "symmetric response" in the Russia-US decades-long dispute over the ownership of Hasidic texts, Russian president's envoy for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi has said.

Russia demands that the US hand back seven Jewish texts from the Russian State Library in Moscow that were loaned to the US Library of Congress in 1991 but were never returned.

The texts were handed on to the New York-based Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group, which claims the rightful ownership of the books, which were nationalized by Soviet Russia. Moscow said there were no legal heirs in the Schneerson family.

"Russia has the full legal right to launch a symmetric procedure and insist on the arrest of the US property in security for the return of these books and insist on levying penalties," Shvydkoi said.

Shvydkoi, formerly Russia’s culture minister, reminded that Moscow withdrew from the court proceedings in 2009, saying that the court’s decision had no legal relevance in Russia.

Earlier this week, the US court ordered Russia to pay a fine of $43.7 million for refusing to return a collection of thousands of Jewish books and documents started by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson in the Russian city of Lyubavichi (now Belarus) in the early 20th century.

"Russia represented by the culture ministry withdrew from the process in the Schneerson Library case already more than five years ago and Russia’s representatives do not attend court sessions," Shvydkoi said.

US District Judge Royce Lamberth "sees disrespect for the court here and moreover, he has pronounced judgement on levying penalty against Russia without the presence of Russia’s representatives," he said.

Now the so-called Schneerson Library has moved to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow under supervision of Russia’s Hasidic community. The collection includes 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents.

The envoy says there is no evidence that the collection belongs to the US Hasidic community. "In fact, the books from the Schneerson Library are available for Hasids from around the world," he said.

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