WASHINGTON, D.C. August 19, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to escalate. Ukrainian authorities reported a new buildup of Russian troops and defense equipment near Ukraine’s eastern border. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned yesterday of a possibility of Russia invading Ukraine and urged the international community to maintain sanctions and other pressure on Russia. The update includes several articles that detail the latest developments in Eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Ukraine’s investigation of ousted President Victor Yanukovych revealed records of $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from Yanukovych’s party designated for Paul Manafort, campaign chairman for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. While Manafort has denied the claims, today he resigned from the campaign.
The update includes a number of articles analyzing the geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s use of an Iranian air base to bomb rebel targets across Syria.
Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law that limits the return of property seized in Warsaw during the Communist era, including some property that belonged to Jewish families. Also this week, President Duda issued a moving statement eulogizing Filip Białowicz, the last Polish Jewish survivor of the Sobibor death camp. Poland’s cabinet also approved a proposed law to make phrases “Polish extermination camps" and "Polish death camps" punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said that the new law, which awaits approval by the parliament, is designed to introduce “criminal consequences … against persons who publicly and against the facts say the Polish nation participated, organized, is responsible or co-responsible for committing the crimes of the German Third Reich."
Last week, Moses Truskinovsky, a leader in the Soviet Jewry movement in Riga and Moscow, passed away in Minneapolis, where he had lived for over twenty years. NCSEJ President Alexander Smukler remembered him as “one of the soldiers of the movement… who worked hard behind the scenes, mentored young leaders, organized conferences, and preserved the Jewish neshama so the flame could be passed on to another generation.”
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. August 19, 2016
U.S. assessing if Russian use of Iran base violated U.N. resolution
Reuters, August 17, 2016
Aug 17 The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday its attorneys were assessing whether Russia violated a U.N. Security Council resolution by using an Iranian air base to conduct military strikes inside Syria but had not yet reached a determination.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Russia's continued use of the Iranian base to strike Syrian targets "doesn't help" to reach a cessation of hostilities in the country's civil war between government forces and militants. Read the full article here.
Two American NGOs Declared 'Undesirable' in Russia
Moscow Times, August 18, 2016
Russia has added two American NGOs to the country’s list of "undesirable'' organizations, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office announced in a statement on its website Thursday.
The 2015 law on "undesirables" was designed to limit foreign influence in Russia and organizations on the list are often forced to shut down, forbidden from holding public events and from distributing promotional materials. Non-compliance with the law can result in fines or a prison term of up to six years.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) were Thursday deemed to “present a threat to the basic constitutional order of the Russian Federation and its state security,” the General Prosecutor’s Office statement said.
Moldova opposes Russian troop exercises in separatist area
AP, August 18, 2016
Moldova's foreign ministry has summoned Russian diplomats to protest recent military exercises involving Russian troops in a separatist region of Moldova.
The ministry called the exercises illegal in a statement Thursday, adding that they were "provocative and inadmissible ... and undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Moldova.
Diplomats were called to the ministry late Wednesday after Moldovan separatists and Russian troops staged joint military exercises this week in the breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester.
Auschwitz plastered tour bus draws condemnation in Czech Republic
The Jerusalem Post, August 17, 2016
A Czech tour bus decorated with chilling images of Auschwitz victims and train tracks has faced criticism for its representation of the site as an attractive destination.
Jewish leaders and victim's of the Auschwitz death camp have recently condemned a Czech tourist company's bus that displays the site as an attractive holiday destination.
The coach's exterior displays real images of victims of the concentration camp as well as a giant Star of David over the train tracks that led to the Nazi concentration camp that took 1.1 million lives.
The tour bus also bears the slogan - "Come to Auschwitz- A journey through emotions," the Daily Mail reported this week.
Read the full article here.
President signs law limiting restitution of property in Warsaw
Radio Poland, August 17, 2016
Polish President Andrzej Duda has signed into law new rules that will limit the return of property seized in Warsaw during the communist era to its original owners.
The new law concerns property which was seized in October 1945 under the so-called Bierut Decree, named after the former Polish communist leader Bolesław Bierut.
An estimated 20,000-24,000 private buildings were taken from their owners, in practice without any compensation.
Since the fall of communism in Poland in 1989 it has been possible to submit claims for the return of such confiscated property.
Under the new law, Warsaw authorities will be able to refuse the return of land if it is now being used for a public purpose, such as a school. Claims to buildings which were more than 66% destroyed after World War II can also be refused.Read the full article here.
Polish president pens passionate eulogy for survivor of Sobibor death camp
JTA, August 16, 2016
In an unusual gesture, the president of Poland published a long statement eulogizing a Holocaust survivor who was among a handful of people to have escaped the Nazi death camp at Sobibor in the country’s east.
Andrzej Duda published his 650-word eulogy of Filip Białowicz on the president’s official website on Friday. Białowicz, who died Aug. 6 in his home in Florida at age 90, was the last Polish Jewish survivor of the Sobibor camp.
“We are saying goodbye to an ardent advocate of mutual friendship and respect among nations, religions and world views,” Duda wrote about Białowicz. His death, Duda added, marks the passing of a “person who did much to ensure that the crime of the Holocaust forever remains a closed chapter of history. So that nobody, under no circumstances, experiences it ever again.“
Białowicz and his older brother, Symcha, escaped from Sobibor along with 300 other Jewish prisoners after staging a well-planned rebellion in which the death camp’s German guards were killed. Most of the prisoners were recaptured and killed, but the brothers Białowicz were among a few dozen who got away. Symcha Białowicz died in Israel in 2014.Read the full article here.
Macedonian Jewish Community, JDC Aiding Thousands of Flood Survivors After Catastrophic Storms in Country
ejewishphilanthropy.com, August 15, 2016
A week after disastrous floods struck Macedonia, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) together with The Jewish Community of the Republic of Macedonia and the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia, have assisted thousands of flood survivors by creating and distributing 1,000 hygiene relief kits throughout the hardest-hit areas of the Balkan nation. The packages, created at a Jewish community volunteer event yesterday and distributed to aid approximately 5,000 people in Stajkovci, Smiljkovci, Brnjarci, Indzikovo, and Chento, will help address personal and household hygiene needs, a critical component in flood recovery zones.Read the full article here.
Ukraine’s honoring of war criminals leaves its Jews uneasy — and divided
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, August 16, 2016
When Vladimir Putin grabbed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the Russian president claimed it was to protect minorities from anti-Semitic fascists whom Putin maintained were behind the revolution that year that ousted his ally in Kiev, former President Viktor Yanukovych.
But a physicist named Josef Zissels, who heads one of the groups representing Ukraine’s fractured Jewish community of 350,000, wasn’t buying it.
In hundreds of media briefings and interviews, Zissels called the revolution “an expression of the Ukrainian people’s desire for independence, Western democracy and an end to the corruption by sellout leaders,” as he put it at one news conference in Kiev in 2014.
That defense of the revolution, coming from a former political prisoner who spent nearly 10 years in a Soviet prison, severely undermined Putin’s narrative.Read the full article here.
Remembering Babyn Yar: A 1966 Speech And 50 Years Later
By Natalia A. Feduschak
Odessa Review,August 15, 2016
The official 75th anniversary commemorations of the Nazi massacres that took place at the Babyn Yar ravine in Kyiv will take place in the Ukrainian capital between September 23-29. The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, a Canada-based non-governmental organization, working in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress, Ukraine’s government and other Ukrainian Jewish and diaspora organizations, will also sponsor a series of public events in memory of what took place.
On a sun drenched Kyiv afternoon, September 29, 1966, the Ukrainian writer and dissident Ivan Dziuba addressed a crush of several hundred people surrounding him.
“I want to say a few words — a one-thousandth part of what I am thinking today and what I would like to say,” he told the crowd. “I want to turn to you as people, as to my brothers in humanity. I want to address you, Jews, as a Ukrainian, as a member of the Ukrainian nation, to which I proudly belong. Babyn Yar, this is a tragedy of all humanity, but it happened on Ukrainian soil. And that is why a Ukrainian does not have the right to forget about it, just as a Jew [doesn’t]. Babyn Yar, this is our common tragedy, a tragedy first of all of the Jewish and Ukrainian people.”
Russia Builds Up Army Near Ukraine Border
By James Marson and Thomas Grove
Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2016
Russia is bolstering its military presence on its western border, sending tens of thousands of soldiers to newly built installations within easy striking distance of Ukraine.
The moves, which come as Moscow ratchets up confrontation over the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, are a centerpiece of a new military strategy the Kremlin says is meant to counter perceived threats from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Military analysts say the deployments appear to be an effort to build a more permanent and robust military posture around Ukraine, where Russia has carried out covert military interventions aimed at maintaining influence in its West-leaning neighbor.
“Russia’s plans around the Ukrainian border show a real intent to use force if needed,” said Anton Lavrov, a defense analyst at Moscow-based think tank CAST. “They would be Russia’s first line of assistance if the pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine needed help.”
Keeping an International Eye on Ukraine
By Daniel Baer
Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2016
For the third year in a row, August is proving a particularly deadly month in eastern Ukraine. Russian fighters, funds, weapons and equipment have kept the conflict burning—a conflict that has devastated buildings, roads and public works, led to massive population displacement and widespread human-rights abuses, and claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 people, with tens of thousands more injured.
New Russian military equipment has been spotted in recent weeks, and Ukrainian soldiers have now become accustomed to being on the receiving end of coordinated Russian and separatist artillery strikes, often fired from residential areas, with the targeting assistance of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. International observers confirm that the majority of the fighting in eastern Ukraine is being initiated by the Russian-separatist side.
Washington has not and will not abandon diplomatic efforts to jump-start a cease-fire and the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements—several agreements Russia and Ukraine signed, with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as witness, in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, these efforts have so far not borne fruit.
Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief
By Andrew Kramer, Mike McIntire and Barry Meieraug
New York Times, August 14, 2016
On a leafy side street off Independence Square in Kiev is an office used for years by Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, when he consulted for Ukraine’s ruling political party. His furniture and personal items were still there as recently as May.
And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Once a prop for anti-Semites, the Talmud makes a comeback in Russia
Read the full article here.
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, August 17, 2016
A century ago, passages from the Talmud were translated into Russian to be used as evidence in the anti-Semitic show trial of Menahem Mendel Beilis, a Jew charged with — and eventually acquitted of – murdering a Christian boy.
The prosecution in that 1915 trial, which was decried internationally for its resemblance to medieval blood libels, cherry-picked quotes from the Talmud, a central text of Orthodox Jewish tradition, to argue that Beilis had killed the boy for religious purposes.
Now the Talmud is again being translated into Russian. But this time it was done in full and with scholarly annotations as part of one Moscow-based Jewish publishing house’s ambitious plan to make the text more accessible to a readership of 260 million Russian speakers worldwide.
How Russia Saw Donald Trump’s Big Speech On Foreign Policy
Time, August 16, 2016
There wasn’t a whole lot for Russia to love about Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda, at least not the version of it that he recited on Monday from a pair of teleprompters at a university in Ohio. Still, the reporters at the Kremlin’s main television station had enough to work with. “Crush and destroy!” began the teaser at the top of their Tuesday morning news bulletin. “Trump has voiced his strategy for the destruction of ISIS. Whom has he chosen as his ally?”
Among others, he’d chosen Russia — though not as enthusiastically as Moscow might have hoped. In fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups, Trump said, the U.S. “could find common ground” with Russia, which also has “much at stake in the outcome in Syria.” This was, at most, a sign of his willingness to work with Russia on issues of mutual benefit. But it did not come close to the sort of pronouncements that have made Trump the sweetheart of Moscow’s foreign policy establishment.
Why Putin wants a Trump victory (so much he might even be trying to help him)
By Michael McFaul
Washington Post, August 17, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to see Donald Trump become the next president of the United States. To that end, Putin and his government have taken unprecedented steps to influence our electoral process to help the Republican Party’s nominee. Whether Russia’s interventions will succeed is not obvious. But it’s clear that Putin’s government has the motives — and the means — to try.
Putin has rational motives for wanting Trump to win: Trump champions many foreign policies that Putin supports. Trump’s most shocking, pro-Kremlin proposal is to “look into” recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia. President Obama and nearly every member of Congress — Republican and Democrat — have rejected that idea vigorously. Only Afghanistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela have recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Naturally, Putin would love to see the United States join that list.
Trump also has made clear his disdain for the United States’ alliances around the world. Demonstrating his misunderstanding of how NATO works, Trump has demanded that other NATO members essentially pay us for protection, making many of our allies, especially in the eastern part of Europe, nervous about his commitment to defend them. Trump has also disparaged our allies in Asia, creating new opportunities for Russian influence. On trade, Trump’s promises to disrupt our agreements also play right into Putin’s agenda. From Putin’s perspective, what could be a better way to start the New Year than a trade war between the United States and China or Mexico? Trump’s threats to stop paying our debts also would radically undermine our credibility as a lender, another desirable outcome for Putin.
Russia is now a threat. The U.S. should treat it like one
By David J. Kramer
Washington Post, August 18, 2016
David J. Kramer is senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the George W. Bush administration.
The next president should recognize that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian, kleptocratic regime that poses a serious threat to our values, interests and allies. We should contain and deter Russian aggression by reassuring our NATO allies that we will defend them, fulfilling the collective-defense guarantees of Article 5 and reaffirming our support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and aspirations of Russia’s neighbors to join NATO or the European Union. We must also support those living inside Russia who are struggling for a better, more democratic future.
The problem boils down to the nature of the Putin regime. Since coming to power 17 years ago (initially as prime minister) by ordering brutal force against Russia’s region of Chechnya, Putin has demonstrated a ruthless willingness to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. Any threat — real or imagined — is dealt with decisively, whether it originates inside Russia or abroad.
Russia’s Growing Military Ties With Iran
Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2016
Russian military aircraft on Tuesday and Wednesday targeted rebel positions in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. Not much new in that—except the Kremlin made a point of announcing that the bombers are flying out of an air base in western Iran.
The bombing runs are another sign that Moscow and Tehran are consolidating their strategic ties in the wake of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. It follows the Kremlin’s decision last year to sell the S-300 system to the mullahs despite earlier promises to withhold the surface-to-air missiles. As retired Russian Gen. Evgeny Buzhinskiy told us in a phone interview Tuesday, “I think cooperation between Iran and Russia is growing, and military cooperation is at the top.”
The immediate motive for the latest Russian-Iranian strikes in Syria is payback for recent opposition gains in Aleppo. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad have laid siege for weeks to some 300,000 people remaining in eastern Aleppo, cutting off supply routes to the rebel-held area while the Russians pummeled civilians from the air.
Cautious Debate In Iran Follows Russia’s Use Of Military Base
By Golnaz Esfandiari
RFE/RL, August 18, 2016
Russia’s use of Iranian territory to launch air strikes in Syria this week has sparked cautious debate in Iran, where open discussions of sensitive foreign policy issues are rare and perceived affronts to national sovereignty could weigh heavily on a regime founded on promises to kick out foreign meddlers.
Iranian officials have said that the unprecedented move, which deepens both Russian and Iranian involvement in the five-year-old Syrian conflict, is part of a “strategic cooperation” with Moscow aimed at fighting “terrorism.”
The partnership has raised concerns in Washington, whose relations with Moscow have soured to Cold War levels and which last year signed a landmark agreement along with Russia and other world powers to ease sanctions on Tehran in exchange for nuclear concessions.
Read the full article here.
The Quiet Tajik Refugee Crisis
By Yan Matusevich
The Diplomat, August 11, 2016
While the refugee crisis triggered by the Syrian conflict has gotten wall-to-wall news coverage in Europe, Poland has been barely a blip on the migration radar. Unlike other EU border states such as Greece, Hungary, and Italy, Poland has not seen a major spike in asylum seekers from places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, due to a large extent to its geographical location away from the main migration routes.
Yet the comparatively low numbers of Syrians and Afghans arriving in Poland mask a rather dramatic and largely obscured development: the increase in the number of asylum seekers from Tajikistan.
In the first half of 2016, 660 Tajiks sought asylum in Poland, already surpassing the total of 527 Tajik asylum applicants in all of 2015. If the current arrival rate continues, the number of Tajik asylum seekers may well surpass the 1,000 mark by the end of the year. To put things in perspective, there were just 105 asylum seekers from Tajikistan in 2014 and they were virtually unheard of in years prior.
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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.