Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 27, 2018

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State in a 57-42 vote. NCSEJ looks forward to working with Secretary Pompeo and will continue to strongly advocate for the appointment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism as soon as possible. 

In Armenia, popular protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Monday. The Armenian Parliament elected Sarkisian prime minister on April 17, eight days after finishing his second term as the country's president. While president, Sarkisian changed the constitution to make the role of prime minister more powerful and pledged to not seek that office. When he broke that pledge, protesters took to the streets, fearing that Sarkisian was seeking protracted, authoritarian-style rule. Armen Karapetian is now acting prime minister until government coalitions name a successor. 

Prime Minister of Romania Viorica Dancila visited Israel this week to meet with her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. Dancila's party supports moving the Romanian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem but Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who belongs to a different political party, opposes the move. Discussions are ongoing. 

On Tuesday, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act passed with unanimous support in Congress. The act will strengthen State Department reporting on European countries' compliance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which established guidelines for restitution of property illegally seized from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. NCSEJ and several other Jewish organizations worked closely with congressional offices to support passage of the bill.

This week, we share with you three pieces on the current situation in Poland. One explores the Jewish revival in Krakow. The other two are opinion pieces about Poland's anti-defamation legislation, including a piece by Tad Taube, Chairman of Taube Philanthropies and Honorary Consul of Poland for the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Lastly, we have included an interesting article about Kazakhstan's decision to change the Kazakh language alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin. The change will be implemented gradually over the next several years with a target completion date of 2025. NCSEJ last visited Kazakhstan in November 2017.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. April 27, 2018

Senate Confirms C.I.A. Chief Mike Pompeo to Be Secretary of State

By Gardiner Harris and Thomas Kaplan

New York Times, April 26, 2018

The Senate easily confirmed Mike Pompeo on Thursday as the United States’ 70th secretary of state, elevating the current C.I.A. director and an outspoken foreign policy hawk to be the nation’s top diplomat.

In the end, the 57-to-42 tally lacked the drama of other nail-biting confirmation votes in the Trump era. This week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the nominee’s main Republican antagonist, bowed to pressure from President Trump to drop his objections. Ultimately, seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus — five of whom face re-election this year in states that Mr. Trump won in 2016 — joined a united Republican conference to support Mr. Pompeo’s confirmation.

Read the full article here.

A 'Color Revolution' In Armenia? Mass Protests Echo Previous Post-Soviet Upheavals

By Mike Eckel

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 24, 2018

Outrage over allegations of political cronyism. Mass protests in the capital. Young people demanding a say in their country's future. A leader's sudden departure from power.

Serbia in 2000? Georgia in 2003? Ukraine in 2004 (or 2014)? Kyrgyzstan in 2005?

No, this is Armenia in 2018.

With Yerevan convulsing in exuberance and nervousness over Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's abrupt decision to step down, observers and analysts are watching the culmination of 11 days of protests for parallels to what Moscow has derisively in the past so-called "color revolutions."

Romanian PM visits Israel as embassy row brews

AFP/Times of Israel, April 25, 2018

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila started a two-day visit to Israel Wednesday, as a political row brews at home over the possible transfer of Romania’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Dancila, from the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD), was to have lunch with her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu before visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, according to Israeli officials.

On Thursday she is due to visit the Western Wall and meet President Reuven Rivlin.

The visit comes days after PSD party chief Liviu Dragnea kicked off a political row in Romania by announcing the government’s “decision” to move the country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Read the full article here.

House approves Holocaust restitution bill

Arutz Sheva Israel National News, April 25, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets, JTA reported.

The measure, known as The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, requires the State Department to report on the progress of certain European countries toward the return of or restitution for wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets, including property, art and other movable property.

It also requires a report specifically on progress on the resolution of claims for U.S. citizen Holocaust survivors and family members.

Read the full article here.

In Krakow, Jews celebrate their community’s ‘revival’ amid rising xenophobia

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 23, 2018

At one of Poland’s plushest synagogues, leaders of this city’s small but vibrant Jewish community welcomed visitors from around the world to a celebration of what the hosts call their minority’s “revival” in this country.

The occasion for the party Sunday at Tempel Synagogue was the 10th anniversary of the adjacent Jewish Community Center of Krakow, located in the heart of the city’s historic Jewish quarter, Kazimierz.

Since its opening in 2008, the three-story building, with its club for some 60 Holocaust survivors and newly opened Jewish kindergarten, has become a symbol for the return of Jewish community life to the city near Auschwitz, where the Nazis obliterated centuries of Jewish presence.

Read the full article here.

Polish Court Set To Rule On Holocaust Law. Criminalizing Speech Is Not The Way.

By Tad Taube

Forward, April 25, 2018

In a few weeks’ time, the Polish Constitutional Court will deliver its ruling on whether the anti-defamation law introduced earlier this year (which criminalizes any mischaracterization of Poland’s role in the Holocaust including use of the phrase “Polish death camps”) will be declared unconstitutional.

Here in the Bay Area, I was heartened to speak recently with several visiting Polish government officials and intellectuals who expressed their opposition to the law in moderate tones. Contemplating the legal recourse to be taken, questions loom large: Will the government rescind or revise the law, and if the latter, to what extent, and how will the government lead in an effort to restore good will among nations most directly affected, such as Israel and the United States?

Read the full article here.

Poland Shatters a Fragile Peace With Its Jews

By Marek Strzelecki
Bloomberg, April 22, 2018

Polish writer Mikolaj Grynberg grew up in Warsaw listening to his family’s harrowing stories of loved ones who perished in the Holocaust. He then traveled the world to find fellow children of survivors to give them a voice in his books and photographs.

Now his fellow Poles are forcing open old wounds he thought were healing in the country of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Auschwitz.

Three months ago, on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the Nazi death camp’s liberation, Poland’s parliament backed legislation that criminalizes any suggestion the nation was responsible for the genocide. It prompted an international outcry led by Israel and the U.S. that it stifled free speech. Since then, it’s led to growing fears among the small community of Jews left in Poland that they are under threat.

Read the full article here.

Is Poland's Holocaust law changing US attitudes towards Ukraine’s memory laws?

By Samuel Sokol

Open Democracy, April 26, 2018

On Wednesday evening, more than 50 US Congressmen joined together in issuing a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan demanding that his agency exert diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Poland in response to recent “incidents of state-sponsored Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.” Citing this week’s public festival in Lviv celebrating the 14th Galician division of the Waffen SS, as well as recent historical memory legislation emanating from both Kyiv and Warsaw, the lawmakers call on the Polish and Ukrainian governments “to unequivocally reject Holocaust distortion and the honoring of Nazi collaborators and fully prosecute anti-Semitic crimes.”

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian teacher allegedly praises Hitler, performs Nazi salute with students

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 23, 2018

A public school teacher in Ukraine allegedly posted birthday greetings to Adolf Hitler on Facebook and taught her students the Nazi salute.

Marjana Batjuk, who teaches at a school in Lviv and also is a councilwoman, posted her greeting on April 20, the Nazi leader’s birthday, Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, told JTA. He called the incident a “scandal.”

She also took some of her students to meet far-right activists who over the weekend marched on the city’s streets while wearing the uniform of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many ethnic Ukrainians also known as the 1st Galician.

Hungary Chief Rabbi resigns as Jews consider reaction to Orbán victory

By Liam Hoare

The Jewish Chronicle, April 19, 2018

Hungary’s chief rabbi, Robert Frölich, has resigned over disagreements within the Neolog movement (the dominant religious tendency among Hungarian Jews) and with Mazsihisz, the federation of Hungarian Jewish communities.

The decision came just days after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz was returned to government with almost half the popular vote. Orbán ran a xenophobic campaign which played on voters’ fears of migrants and outsiders, including the billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Rabbi Frölich’s resignation was a result of internal politics over the future direction of Neolog Judaism, which is positioned theologically between Masorti and Orthodoxy. He was in disagreement with András Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz, over the future direction of the movement.

Read the full article here.

The cost of changing an entire country’s alphabet

By Dene-Hern Chen

BBC, April 25, 2018

The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant – and it elicited a big response.

“This one is more beautiful!” Asset Kaipiyev exclaims in surprise. The co-founder of a small restaurant in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, Kaipiyev had just been shown the latest version of the new alphabet, approved by President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier in the day.

The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan’s current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population – a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev’s iron fist for almost three decades.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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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.