Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. May 19, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO


Dear Friend,

Last night I attended a special screening of Operation Wedding by filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov. This documentary retells the incredible story of how her parents Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov and a few others in 1970 attempted to hijack a plane from what was then Leningrad to the West, to bring attention to the plight of Jews in the USSR.

There are a few touchstone moments in the Soviet Jewry movement and this is certainly one of them. Fourteen people were part of the plot to overtake the plane and fly to freedom, but not one of them ever expected their plan to succeed. The KGB knew their plan every step of the way.

All fourteen were arrested at the airport, tried and convicted. Eduard Kuznetsov and Mark Dmyshitz were sentenced to death, setting in motion a campaign to save their lives and a series of worldwide protests that the Soviet government never expected nor understood.

Ms. Zalmanaon-Kuznetsov focuses on her parents and the impact their decision had on so many others. I highly recommend that you see this documentary to understand how these brave individuals galvanized our community, the State of Israel and much of the world to fight for the freedom of Soviet Jews.

Also, earlier this week, NCSEJ joined other American Jewish organizations in co-sponsoring a program on Capitol Hill celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Jewish leaders from across the country came to commemorate this historic event, hearing from dozens of Members of Congress. Deputy Director Lesley Weiss represented NCSEJ at the event.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, which strengthens the State Department’s ability to report on anti-Semitism in Europe. It also recommends that European nations adopt a uniform definition of anti-Semitism. NCSEJ and many of our member agencies supported this legislation. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The Spring Board of Governors meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 7 is only a few weeks away. We have organized a terrific program featuring the U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations, reports from three Jewish community leaders in the region, as well as a special book presentation on the history of the Soviet Jewry movement. There is still time to join us by calling 202-898-2500 or registering at http://ncsej.org/board_meeting.


Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. May 19, 2017

House passes bill that would enhance reporting on European anti-Semitism

JTA, May 18, 2017

WASHINGTON  — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would add greater detail to State Department reporting on anti-Semitism in Europe.

The Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 passed Wednesday requires the State Department to report to Congress on security challenges to European Jewish communities and to the police forces where they live, and on efforts in Europe to educate against anti-Semitism.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Jew in serious condition after altercation with neighbor

JTA, May 14, 2017

A Ukrainian Jew in his twenties was critically injured by his neighbor.

The incident happened in Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine on Friday, according to a statement on the community’s website, which identified the injured community member only as Abraham, 26.

The neighbor attacked the man with a sharp object, hitting his leg, according to the statement.

Read the full article here.

Poland unveils memorial to WWII hero who entered Auschwitz voluntarily

AP, May 13, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Warsaw’s mayor unveiled a monument Saturday to a World War II hero who volunteered to go to the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp and informed firsthand on atrocities there but was later executed by Poland’s communist regime.

The stone-and-metal memorial for Capt. Witold Pilecki is located near the place where in September 1940 the clandestine army fighter let himself be caught by the occupying Nazi Germans. It was a step toward becoming an inmate of Auschwitz, which the Germans operated in southern Poland.

Read the full article here.

Marking end to spat, Netanyahu meets with Ukraine’s Jewish premier

By Alexander Fulbright

Times of Israel, May 15, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday met with his Ukrainian counterpart in Jerusalem, marking a formal end to a spat between the two countries over Kiev’s support for a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.

During a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office with Volodymyr Groysman, who became Ukraine’s first Jewish prime minister last year, Netanyahu described the Ukrainian premier’s visit and the mending of ties between Jerusalem and Kiev as a “moment of courageous friendship.

Read the full article here.

Russia Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital. Why Can’t the U.S.?

By Eugene Kontorovich

Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2017

President Trump’s visit to Israel next week is expected to lead to some announcement about his Jerusalem policy. The trip will coincide with celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification after the Six Day War. Only days after the visit, the president will have to decide between waiving an act of Congress or letting it take effect and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv—as he promised last year to do if elected.

Jerusalem is the only world capital whose status is denied by the international community. To change that, in 1995 Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which mandates moving the U.S. Embassy to a “unified” Jerusalem. The law has been held in abeyance due to semiannual presidential waivers for “national security” reasons. President Obama’s final waiver will expire June 1.

Read the full article here.

EU approves visa-free travel for Ukrainians

AlJazeera, May 11, 2017

The European Union has adopted a regulation granting visa-free travel for Ukrainians, fulfilling a key promise to cement ties with Kiev.

Under the regulation, Ukrainian citizens holding a biometric passport can travel to an EU country for up to 90 days out of any 180-day period for business, tourism or family purposes. The measure will not apply to Ireland and the UK, while travellers will not be permitted to work or reside in EU member states.

Read the full article here.

Russian TV uses Nazi film in segment advancing Jewish world domination theory

By Yaakov Schwartz

Times of Israel, May 10, 2017

Russia’s Channel 1 aired a segment on the Rothschild family containing classic anti-Semitic tropes and Nazi propaganda.

The piece’s narration, captioned in English this week by the media watchdog MEMRI, paints the Rothschild family as an international cabal. Enlisting various “dog-whistles” and strategic omissions, the report asserts that the dynasty is part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.

Read the full article here.

Far-right activists film anti-Soros ‘raid’ on Budapest Jewish center

JTA, May 12, 2017

Far-right activists in Budapest targeted a Jewish community center that serves as the headquarters of several ethnic and refugee activist groups, filming themselves as they put up defaced posters of the Jewish billionaire George Soros.

The video was filmed last week outside the Aurora community center by members of the far-right Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement and posted online by ultranationalist media including Szent Korona Rádió.

Seven men, dressed in black and sporting the very short haircuts in the skinhead neo-Nazi style, are seen walking through Budapest’s 8th district, a poor area with many immigrants and Roma, or gypsy, residents.

The men place posters reading “Stop operation Soros” on the message board of Aurora, established in 2014 by Marom, a Jewish identity group affiliated with the Conservative/Masorti Movement.

Read the full article here.

Armenians in Holy Land and Jews in Armenia

By Lilit Khachatrian

Mediamax, May 12, 2017

In early 1990s an ancient Jewish cemetery was discovered in Yeghegis, which used to be the capital of the province of Vayots Dzor in 12th-14th centuries. An archbishop from Jerusalem was in Echmiadzin at that time and recognized Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions on tombstones.

These were Jewish tombs dated back to 13th-14th centuries. The Jews were socially and culturally assimilated in Armenia and people who made the tombstones of the church of Yeghegis had also made those tombstones from the same rock. These Jews came to live in Yeghegis in the aftermath of the invasion of Seljuks at the beginning of the 14th century.

Read the full article here.

Zeman says he wished to 'liquidate' press; critics unamused

Associated Press, May 15, 2017

PRAGUE — The Czech presidential office said President Milos Zeman's latest shot at the media was a joke. Politicians and journalists just don't seem to get it.

Before meeting Russia's president Sunday in China, Zeman commented on the presence of journalists, telling Vladimir Putin that they were too numerous and they should be "liquidated." Putin countered that it could be enough to "reduce" them. Their conversation was captured by a television microphone and posted on social media.

Read the full article here.

One in Six Soviet Children Who Moved to Israel in the Early 1990s Have Since Left

By Liza Rozovsky

Haaretz, May 9, 2017

Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of the children who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s has since moved abroad. Furthermore, Russian-speaking immigrants at the peak of their creative powers are more inclined to leave than other immigrant groups. They are also several times more likely to leave than their native-born Israeli counterparts.

About 17 percent of the children of Russian parents who immigrated to the Holy Land in the early and mid-1990s have since emigrated, either to other Western countries or their native land, according to the data, which was requested by Haaretz.

Read the full article here.

A government campaign against George Soros splits Hungarian Jews

By Cnaan Liphshiz

JTA, May 16, 2017

In recent months Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is critical of the European Union’s federalist and progressive agendas, has flagged as “dangerous” Soros’ promotion of those plans by funding grassroots activism and some higher education frameworks in Hungary.

Occurring in a conservative society that is still struggling with the complicity of its wartime governments in the murder of nearly half a million Jews during the Holocaust, the campaign against a Jewish billionaire has prompted warnings that Orban’s crusade against Soros is anti-Semitic. Earlier this month Frans Timmermans, a senior EU official, suggested that the Hungarian government is channeling anti-Semitic sentiment to delegitimize a powerful critic of its nationalist policies.

That view, however, is not shared by the main leaders of Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community. In interviews with JTA, its leaders rejected allegations that the government is using anti-Semitic dog whistles consciously. At the same time, they warned that the campaign against Soros may embolden anti-Semites regardless of the government’s intentions.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine Prime Minister condemns Russian aggression during Israel visit

By Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017

“Every day they [separatists] fire at us from the temporarily Russian-occupied territories; every day we have 40 to 50 to 100 firings a day from Russian weapons, from Russian tanks, Russian artillery, and innocent people die as a result,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Groysman, the first openly Jewish prime minister of Ukraine, is in Israel for a multiday visit that has included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and various ministers and Knesset members. He stressed the close relations between Kiev and Israel and emphasized that the world should stand on the side of what he termed democratic Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Read the full article here.

Poroshenko rejects idea of Ukraine's cutting Donbas loose

Interfax-Ukraine, May 15, 2017

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has maintained that he does not share the idea of relinquishing the territories currently not controlled by Kyiv in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

"I hear some proposals. The proposals are: "Let us cut this land off "; "Let us give it to Putin as a present"; "Let us build up a wall"; "Let us forget about Donbas", because we are never going to get it back, they say," Poroshenko said at a news conference in Kyiv on Sunday.

Read the full article here.

1,000+ Russian-speaking Jews pay tribute to troubadour Leonard Cohen

By Daniel K. Eisenbud

Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2017

Some 1,000 young Russian- American Jewish professionals paid out of pocket to attend a three-day conference in Rye Brook, New York, to seek knowledge about a shared past once obscured by Communism, learn about Jewish history, network and meet like-minded peers.

There are an estimated 200,000 Russian Jews in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and more than 700,000 throughout the US. Sponsored by the Koret Foundation and Blavatnik Family Foundation, Limmud FSU New York features 80 speakers and 120 panels, workshops and discussions on subjects ranging from art, to Jewish culture and tradition, history, politics, academics and business.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine Banned Its Biggest Social Network Over Fears of Russian Influence

By Nicole Kobie

Vice News, May 16 2017

Ukraine is blacklisting the country's most popular social network VKontakte, email provider Mail.Ru and a host of other companies—all because they're Russian businesses. President Petro Poroshenko updated the official sanctions list, banning more than 400 companies from doing business for three years in the Ukraine.

The government said the sanctions aimed to protect against companies "whose activities threaten information and the cyber security of Ukraine," according to a Reuters report. Not surprisingly, the move has angered some Ukrainian social media users, with analyst Kantar saying VKontakte is the third most visited site after Google and YouTube. It wasn't immediately clear how VKontakte and the rest would be banned from a technical standpoint.

Read the full article here.

Why These Cutesy Putin Articles Must Stop

By Jake Romm

Forward, May 15, 2017

There is something wrong, indeed, something disgusting, unforgivable even, with abstracting a dictator from his crimes. With publishing the mildly cutesy takes about a childish piano performance, with mentioning Putin’s performance at a charity concert without also noting that he is a moral monster on par with his cohorts Assad and Kadyrov.

These short articles are unforgivable because they offer us a moment’s reprieve, a moment to snicker (one can already imagine the “US Magazine” “Dictators: They’re Just Like Us!” column), a moment to forget. Because unless we forget, there is no reprieve, and there is no snickering.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Jews call for help from world to end Russian conflict

By Sheri Shefa

Canadian Jewish News, May 16, 2017

It’s been more than three years since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began, and the Kyiv-based vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, Josef Zissels, said the conflict will not end without intervention from the international community.

“The international community has a lot more potential than it is currently expending, to try to bring this conflict to a close,” said Zissels, through a translator.

Zissels, who was in Toronto recently at the invitation of Ukrainian-Canadian Encounter, a non-profit cultural group that promotes stronger ties between Ukrainians and Jews, said he met with leaders of the Canadian Jewish and Ukrainian-Canadian communities.

Masha Shumatskaya, who was also visiting Toronto from Ukraine late last month on behalf of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an overseas partner of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, shared her personal story at a UJA Federation lunch.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Jews Find Safe Haven, Challenges in Israel

By Larry Luxner

Atlantic Council, May 15, 2017

Of the thirty students in Avidan’s Hebrew class, eight are Ukrainian Jews—and nearly all have settled here to escape the violence tearing apart the land of their birth.

Since 2014, some 19,000 Ukrainians have “made aliyah” or moved to Israel, according to statistics provided by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption. In 2015 alone, 7,400 arrived, more than triple the 2,020 who came in 2013. Although the influx has subsided somewhat, Ukrainians are still trickling in every month.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine PM: I never hid my ethnic origins

By Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, May 17, 2017

He visited Yad Vashem on Sunday, and in conversations with President Reuven Rivlin, he spoke of the 2,500 Ukrainians recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

Antisemitism in today’s Ukraine is a contentious issue, amid accusations that populists seek to commemorate nationalists such as Symon Petliura or Stepan Bandera, the latter of which was recently honored with a street name in Kiev. For some, these past leaders are antisemites or Nazi collaborators, but history is not so simple.

Read the full article here.

Knesset speaker to address Russian parliament 30 years after Gulag release

By Lahav Harkov

Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a former prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union, will address the Federation Council in Moscow next month, 30 years after he was released from the Gulag.

“This is a special trip and there is great excitement about it,” Edelstein said Monday. “We can’t ignore the symbolism of something that could have been considered a mirage not that many years ago, that someone who was a prisoner in the Soviet Union will stand on the stage of the parliament in Moscow and give a speech as the Speaker of the Knesset of Israel.”

Read the full article here.

New OSCE/ODIHR publication aimed at assisting governments in addressing security needs of Jewish communities

EJC, May 16, 2017

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released on Monday a new publication aimed at assisting governments in addressing the security needs of Jewish communities, at a launch event in the Parliamentary Society of the German Bundestag. 

The publication, Understanding Antisemitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities, was produced within the framework of ODIHR’s “Words into Action to Address Antisemitism” project, in consultation with experts from throughout the OSCE region, to reflect good practices in addressing the security needs of Jewish communities. It lays out practical steps governments are recommended to take to address security needs in co-operation and partnership with these communities.

Read the full article here.

Kremlin Cancels Voter Turnout Boost Over Fears of Opposition Victory — Reports

Moscow Times, May 18, 2017

Kremlin plans to boost voter turnout in the country's regional elections have been scrapped over fears that opposition candidates could be pushed into victory.

The Russian government had planned to launch initiatives encouraging Russians to head to polls in 16 regions scheduled to hold gubernatorial elections this September, Russia's Vedomosti newspaper reported Thursday.

The program will instead be canceled in five of the 16 regions where candidates from President Putin's ruling United Russia party face serious opposition, an unnamed Kremlin source told the outlet.

Read the full article here.

European Parliament MPs slam Hungary, call on EU to explore sanctions

Resolution wins broad backing, including from traditional allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

By Maïa de La Baume    

Politico.eu, May 18, 2017

STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament condemned on Wednesday a “serious deterioration of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights” in Hungary and called for a process that could theoretically lead to EU sanctions against Budapest.

Although sanctions are widely regarded as unlikely, the vote shows how frustrated MEPs across party lines have become with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.

Read the full article here.

President Aliyev receives Executive Vice Chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

AzerNews, May 16, 2017

Malcolm Hoenlein hailed the Azerbaijani-U.S. relations, particularly Azerbaijan’s successful cooperation with American Jews. He stressed the importance of strengthening this cooperation.

President Ilham Aliyev remembered their meeting with Malcolm Hoenlein, which took place during his previous visit to Azerbaijan with a large delegation. The head of state noted that Azerbaijan`s Jewish community co-exists together with members of other nationalities in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

Read the full article here.

Protesters Hit Moscow’s Streets to Fight Mass Renovation Plan

By Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times, May 14, 2017

MOSCOW — Demonstrators packed a downtown Moscow avenue on Sunday, angered by plans for the mass demolition and replacement of huge apartment blocks and by what they called the highhanded way that City Hall, and by extension the federal government, trampled on their basic rights.

A draft law, proposed by Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, would replace about 4,500 apartment buildings built mostly in the 1950s and ’60s and currently home to about 1.6 million people, or more than 10 percent of the capital’s population. Much about the plan remains vague, but the underlying idea is that owners would abandon their apartments on the promise that the city would build them something better.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s Jews walk narrow line between murderous past and uncertain future

As Groysman winds up three-day visit to Israel, Jews back home cope with economic difficulties, war

By Sue Surkes

Times of Israel, May 17, 2017

Tikva, a non-profit organization, managed on Jewish Orthodox lines by British-born Refael Kruskal, has rescued some 2,250 abused, abandoned and homeless Jewish children over the past 15 years. The organization estimates that another 2,500 Jewish orphans are spread around the country and it employs 30 full-time agents to find them.

Several Jewish and Christian organizations provide support for those Jews in need, among them the American Joint Distribution Center’s Hesed program and Christians for Israel, based in Holland, which works with other Christians bodies as part of the Christian Aliyah Alliance.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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Telephone: +1 202 898 2500  |  ncsej@ncsej.org
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.