Netanyahu arrived in Lithuania to seek cooperation from the Baltic states, but in public comments made reference to the Jewish people’s dark history in the nation.
By: Ebin Sandler, World Israel News
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with his Lithuanian counterpart, Saulius Skvernelis, at the latter’s office in Vilnius on Thursday, after which the two heads of state attended an official dinner.
Netanyahu’s visit coincided with a major summit of the Baltic states (B3+1), giving the Israeli prime minister the opportunity to meet not only with Skvernelis, but also Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas. Netanyahu is also slated to meet with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at the presidential palace.
While Grybauskaitė and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkeviciu previously visited Israel, Netanyahu’s current trip marks the first visit to Lithuania by a sitting Israeli prime minister.
On Thursday evening, Netanyahu remarked in a joint statement with Skvernelis, “Lithuania and Israel are … natural allies. We share the values of freedom and democracy. We are two nation states proud of our national identity and committed to protecting individual rights.”
“Today our two nations cooperate in meeting the challenges of the present and seizing the opportunities of the future,” he added. “One of these common challenges in the present is the threat of terrorism that can spread everywhere and reach everywhere. And we are cooperating on this matter as well.”
Netanyahu also referenced the 25 years of diplomatic relations the nations share, noting, “Israel is often mistreated by the EU in Brussels. There are many distortions that are leveled at us and it’s refreshing to see that you take a stand of clarity, of truth and of courage. And we discussed how that can be expanded.”
In addition, Netanyahu thanked his Lithuanian counterpart for taking “a very similar position on the question of the Iran deal,” demanding, “Iran should not be rewarded for its aggression in the region, for its attempts to spread terrorism far and wide in the Middle East, into Europe as they did the other week and to many other places in the world.”
A personal connection
On a personal note, Netanyahu reflected on his family’s history in Lithuania, which he referred to as his “ancestors’ home for many generations.”
“Vilnius [Vilna] was known as the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ but as you know there was also a dark chapter. The Jews of Lithuania were almost entirely wiped out in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their collaborators,” Netanyahu lamented.
He also lauded Lithuania for taking “great steps to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, to speak openly about this horrible crime that must never be repeated.”
Notwithstanding Netanyahu’s diplomatic overtures, Lithuania grapples with its role in World War II and the atrocities Lithuanians committed during the Holocaust.
The nation continues to honor Nazi collaborators and has even prosecuted Jews who fought the Nazis alongside partisan forces.
Yad Vashem called attention to the issue in 2011 when it disinvited Lithuanian officials from a memorial service at the world-renowned holocaust memorial and museum.