Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. January 22, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: James Schiller, Chairman;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

This past Wednesday, the United States transferred power from President Trump to President Biden. For over 200 years the world’s oldest democracy has shown that this can be accomplished through the peaceful exercise of voting and not through the violent acts of extremists, military juntas, or dictators.  

Our country has endured much over the last year from the ravages of the coronavirus to the attempted insurrection of the U.S. Capitol.  However, we also witnessed more Americans exercising their right to vote than at any time in the history of our country. 

This is a right and tradition that many others who live under tyranny continue to envy and aspire.

Included in this week’s update is the NCSEJ statement congratulating President Biden and Vice President Harris on assuming office. In our fifty-year history, NCSEJ has enjoyed overwhelming support for our mission from every American administration. The promotion and protection of Jewish rights in Eurasia has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress and we know this will continue with the new administration and Congress.

On a personal note, I have had the privilege of working with President Biden for over four decades. From his first days in the Senate, he was one of the most outspoken supporters of the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate freely. Over the last 30 years, he has played a leadership role in the efforts to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and extremism in the post-Soviet era.

In all of my dealings with President Biden he has shown empathy, caring, and commitment for those who have suffered the indignities of intolerance and bigotry.

NCSEJ looks forward to working with President Biden and his administration as well as Congress in 2021.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Mark Levin with then-Senators Joseph R. Biden and Gordon Smith circa. 2000
Washington, D.C. January 22, 2021

NCSEJ congratulates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on becoming President and Vice President of the United State

Press Release | January 22, 2021

NCSEJ congratulates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on becoming President and Vice President of the United States.

President Biden has worked with NCSEJ since the early days of the fight for emigration and religious freedom for Soviet Jews with numerous visits to the Soviet Union, meeting with Refuseniks, and co-sponsoring Congressional resolutions on behalf of the Soviet Jewry movement. Today he continues to be a strong voice against anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Eurasia.

We look forward to working with the Biden Administration on the promotion of democracy, human rights, and religious freedom in the region. We appreciate the commitment of the President and Vice President to the safety and security of the over one million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Read the full press release here.

A crotchety old academic reflects on the great Russian ‘wave’

Brian Horowitz
The Times of Israel | January 18, 2021

Thirty years ago, a huge wave of immigration transformed Israel.

Over a million Russians arrived, turning their adopted country into a more prosperous, dynamic, and culturally rich (in a European sense) version of itself. I was there too, a grad student in Jerusalem, observing the changes as they happened. What I recall now, on the 30th anniversary of the “Russian flood,” is a little less triumphant than what journalists in Israel and the United States are now recalling.

My short memoir tells two intersecting stories. One recounts the general context of which I was an observer. The other is the story of Russian Studies in Israel that I, an American, experienced first-hand with the new immigrants.

It was a peculiar time in Israel, the end of the First Intifada. Peculiar, too, was the situation in Jerusalem, where my neighbors were all new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The place was as motley as a Central Asian bazaar: some came from Moscow and with pretentions, some from Rostov, others from Uzbekistan. Some drank vodka every night with friends, bought new clothing, had style. They burned through their “aliyah money” quickly.

Read the full article here.

Nazi collaborators included in Ukrainian memorial project

The Jerusalem Post

Jeremy Sharon | January 21, 2021

A project of the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory memorializing Ukrainian national figures includes senior officials in Ukrainian auxiliary police units that collaborated with the Nazis and carried out atrocities against local populations, including Jews, during the Holocaust.

The project also memorializes controversial Ukrainian nationalists also accused of responsibility for the murder of Jews during the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1923, and during the Holocaust.

Amongst those memorialized on the site are a deputy commander of the 118th Schutzmanshaft Battalion, a commander of the 109th Schutzmanshaft Battalion, Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera and Symon Petliura, a politician in the Ukrainian People's Republic which existed from 1917 to 1920.

The Ukrainian Institute for National Memory has insisted however that the individuals in question were not convicted of war crimes or recorded in state archives as having done so.

The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory is a government institution directed by Anton Drabovich and is dedicated to the preservation of Ukrainian national memory and history.

The institute comes under the authority of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and its current minister Oleksandr Tkachenko. 

Tajiks Bury 'Juro Ako' -- Khujand's Beloved Last Jew
Farangis Najibullah & Farzon Muhammadi
Radio Free Europe | January 21, 2021

KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- A close-knit community in the old quarter of Khujand, a historic Tajik city on the banks of the Syrdaryo River, buried one of its most respected members last week.

The death of 83-year-old Jura Abaev on January 15 marked the end of an era for Khujand: He was the last Jew in the predominantly Muslim city, once home to a strong Jewish community of several thousand that had lived in the region for centuries.

Affectionately known among his neighbors as Jura Ako -- local slang for the "elder brother" -- Abaev lived his entire life in the Under The Big Mulberry Tree neighborhood in the heart of the vibrant city of nearly 200,000 people.
A retired factory worker, Abaev was also the last rabbi of Khujand’s only synagogue until it was closed in 2015 after having been empty since the 1990s.
There were an estimated 15,000 Jews in Tajikistan in the late 1980s, but most of them left the Central Asian country after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Among those who left were Abaev’s five adult children and their families, his half-sister, and many friends and relatives.

After the death of his wife in the 1990s, Abaev also decided to immigrate to Israel to be closer to his children. In fact, he moved to Israel three times between 1990 and 2008 -- each time returning to Khujand, calling it the only home he ever had.

In several interviews with local media in recent years, Abaev said that while he was in Israel he missed his home city, where “everybody knows me, greets me, and calls me Ako.”

In Azerbaijan, patriotic Jewish soldiers are poster children of the war with Armenia
Cnaan Liphshiz 

JTA | January 19, 2021

(JTA) — For decades, Rabbi Zamir Isayev has prayed on Shabbat mornings for the government of his native Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority nation situated northwest of Iran.

Amid the recent deadly fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over disputed territory, he has added a special prayer for the well-being of Azerbaijan’s soldiers, which he follows up with his regular prayer for Israeli troops.

“Israel is my country as a Jew. Azerbaijan is my country as an Azeri,” Isayev, 40, told the Jewish Telegraphic agency. He was born in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, but grew up in Israel and served in its army.

Isayev’s patriotism is typical of Azeri Jews, one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, whose synagogues often feature Azeri and Israeli flags as well as pictures of community members who gave their lives fighting for Azerbaijan and before that the Soviet Union.

Navalny, anticipating arrest, planned protests to force Kremlin to release him, ally says
Reuters | January 23, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Before he returned to Russia, opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his supporters had anticipated he would be arrested and planned to force the Kremlin to release him by staging repeated protests, a close ally has said.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was detained on Sunday after flying home for the first time since being poisoned with what the West says was a military-grade nerve agent that Navalny says was applied to his underpants by state security agents.

The 44-year-old lawyer, now in a notorious Moscow prison pending the outcome of four legal matters he says are all trumped up, accuses Putin of ordering his attempted murder. Putin has dismissed that, alleging Navalny is part of a U.S.-backed dirty tricks campaign to discredit him.

Navalny’s allies plan nationwide protests on Saturday to try to force the Kremlin to order his release, a high-stakes test of his support in the depths of winter during a pandemic.

European court rules Russia responsible for crimes following 2008 war with Georgia
Joshua Kucera  

Eurasia.org | January 21, 2021

Russia is responsible for human rights violations in the aftermath of the 2008 war with Georgia over South Ossetia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

The long-awaited ruling was hailed in Georgia. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said in a tweet that it marked “one of the most important days in the recent history of Georgia … this victory was inevitable and belongs to each and every Georgian.”

The case, filed by Georgia in 2009, sought to hold Russia responsible for a wide variety of human rights violations during and after the war in August 2008. The violations primarily related to the mistreatment and torture of Georgian prisoners and the refusal to let Georgians displaced by the fighting return to their homes.
The court ruled that Russia was not responsible for violations during the fighting from August 8-12, including “killings, ill-treatment, looting and burning of homes,” because while the fighting was going on, Russia could not be said to have exercised “effective control” over the battlefield.

“[T]he very reality of armed confrontation and fighting between enemy military forces seeking to establish control over an area in a context of chaos not only meant that there was no ‘effective control’ over that area, but also excluded any form of ‘State agent authority and control’ over individuals,” the court wrote in a summary of the January 21 ruling. The situation changed once the fighting stopped, the court ruled: “After that period, the strong Russian presence and the South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities’ dependency on the Russian Federation indicated that there had been continued ‘effective control’ over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

Can Belarus Survive Without a Multi-Vector Foreign Policy?

Yauheni Preiherman

Carnegie Moscow Center | January 21, 2021

Since the summer, Minsk’s foreign policy rhetoric has undergone extraordinary shifts. Shortly before August’s presidential election, the Belarusian authorities accused Russian mercenaries of planning to destabilize the country. Then, several days later, they trained their fire on the West, alleging a plot to oust Lukashenko while thanking Moscow for its support.

Something similar happened in 2010. That year’s presidential race took place against the backdrop of an information war with Russia, whose leaders and television channels relentlessly attacked Lukashenko. Meanwhile, senior EU diplomats visited Minsk to discuss the prospect of normalizing relations.

Everything changed when the Belarusian authorities cracked down on the opposition, dispersing demonstrations with force a day after the vote. The West sanctioned Belarus, and Minsk’s differences with Moscow faded, paving the way for Belarus to play an active part in Eurasian integration.

Read the full article here.

Austria unveils national anti-Semitism strategy

Celine Castronuovo
The Hill | January 21, 2021

The Austrian government on Thursday unveiled a sweeping national strategy aimed at combating anti-Semitism through more specific protections for the Jewish community and stricter punishments for hate crimes. 

According to The Associated Press, the Austrian news agency APA reported that the country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, said the measures include the protection of synagogues, improved education on Judaism and more severe prosecution of hate speech, either online or in public settings. 

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, praised the new actions by the Austrian government, the AP reported, adding that “Jews are always the first ones who are affected” by discrimination. 

In August, an Austrian synagogue twice targeted by acts of vandalism was the site of a violent attack against a local Jewish community leader. 

Reuters reported that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and other top officials condemned the attack at the time, with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen writing on Twitter that “hatred towards Jews and anti-Semitism have no place in our society.”

The Jewish Community of Vienna, in partnership with the Forum Against Antisemitism, in May released a report that recorded approximately 550 anti-Semitic incidents in Austria in 2019, which the groups noted was more than double the number recorded five years prior. 

Deutsch told APA at the time that the increase reflected not just growing anti-Semitism across Austria, but throughout Europe as well. 

“Austria is not an island. The increase in anti-Semitic incidents can, unfortunately, be observed across Europe," he said. “The fight against anti-Semitism is not a Jewish task alone, but rather a task for society as a whole. The findings of 2019 show us that the time to act has really come.”

Read the full article here.

Moscow in Confrontational Mode Reacting to Biden’s Inauguration
Pavel Felgenhauer

The Jamestown Foundation | January 21, 2021

The Kremlin-controlled Russian media and top officialdom have greeted President Joe Biden and his administration taking power in the US with a massive, almost hysterical propaganda broadside. Kremlin news outlets have been castigating Biden as an old and senile figurehead president, who will hardly survive his four-year term and whose only purpose was to bring to power in Washington an extreme anti-Russian faction (Russian.rt.com, January 19). Other news outlets argue the situation is much worse: hopes that Biden would be an extremely weak president, opposed by a strong and consolidated GOP opposition led by Donald Trump, have been dashed by the unsuccessful January 6 assault on the US Capitol by a mob of badly organized militant Trump supporters. As a result, according to these news outlets, Trump left Washington an outcast, while the US elite is consolidating around Biden, who is emerging as a strong and dangerous enemy of President Vladimir Putin’s regime. The massive deployment of National Guard soldiers and other law enforcement in Washington during the Biden inauguration is interpreted as a powerful demonstration of force and resolve—something the Russians understand and can appreciate (Vzglyad, January 21).

The incoming administration is seen as a hostile force and there seems little scope or appetite for any serious compromise. The State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, opening the parliamentary session after the New Year/Christmas recess, castigated the US November elections as a sham marred by mass election fraud facilitated by the use of vote-by-mail ballots. “The US electoral system is archaic and untransparent,” according to Volodin, “The closure of Trump’s Twitter account was a violation of human rights.” Volodin declared the pro-Trump rioters arrested after January 6 to be “political prisoners” and criticized European nations and international bodies for being numb about widespread human rights violations in the US. Volodin was joined by leaders of the permitted loyal opposition parties in the Duma, who decreed the US as Russia’s archenemy and castigated opposition leader Alexei Navalny as an American agent and provocateur. He returned to Moscow following treatment in Germany after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok in Tomsk on August 20, 2020. Navalny was arrested immediately after landing in Moscow and has been incarcerated, awaiting trial (Znak.com, January 19).

The Skies are Closing In

Alexander Graef

Riddle.io | January 20, 2021

Russia has announced plans to leave the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows states in Europe and North America to conduct unarmed observation flights over each other’s territory. In its official statement published on January 15, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it had been “authorized to declare the beginning of domestic procedures” and that “upon their completion, the respective notification will be sent to the Depositaries”, Canada and Hungary. Moscow may thus follow the United States, which had announced its withdrawal in May 2020 and eventually left the Treaty on November 22, 2020.

Officially, the U.S. justified its decision with Russian treaty violations. Russian diplomats, in turn, have repeatedly pointed out Moscow’s concerns about illegitimate data sharing among NATO member states. They assume that European State Parties will continue to share imagery from flights over Russia with Washington. Hence, in July, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated that Russia would need “solid guarantees” from U.S. allies. At the five-year Review conference of the Treaty in October, he corroborated this position, arguing that Moscow had approached the State Parties with the proposal to exchange diplomatic notes in order to confirm their mutual commitments in a legally binding form.

In November, Foreign Minister Lavrov even accused the U.S. of forcing allies to file authorization requests for Russian flights over Europe. He also suggested Washington would not be willing to allow flights over U.S. military installations. Thus, in his opinion, the remaining member states would need to guarantee full territorial access as well. From the beginning, the remaining State Parties believed these demands to be unnecessary and spurious. They argue the Treaty already provides both guarantees, to which they are committed as signatories.
Indeed, the Treaty text stipulates that the sensor output from observation flights “shall be used exclusively for the attainment of the purpose of the Treaty.” A decision by the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC, 9/02) reiterates this provision, adding that the data “shall be considered sensitive information”. Member states are obliged to ensure the security of these data adopting appropriate measures. The Treaty also knows practically no territorial limitations for the conduct of overflights.

Nonetheless, Russian concerns are not completely unfounded. At present, the Treaty does not prohibit the transfer of data to non-members expressis verbis. Nor is it technically possible to fully prevent data proliferation. On the other hand, Poland in the past allegedly denied one flight leg over the U.S. missile defense system at the Redzikowo Air Base. Although Russia eventually conducted the flight later, the incident arguably strengthened the position of Treaty critics in Moscow.

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 Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry 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.