Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. July 21, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Hungary for an official state visit, the first for an Israeli head of state since 1989. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban gave a speech in which he acknowledged that Hungary did not do enough to protect its Jews during World War II. The visit came amid concerns of increasing anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism in Hungary as well as criticism that Netanyahu is not doing enough to denounce these trends.

On Monday, the world observed the third anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. To date, no one has been formally charged with shooting down the jet, but a trial is expected to eventually be held in the Netherlands.

President Donald Trump has formally nominated former presidential candidate, Governor of Utah, and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to replace John Tefft as U.S. Ambassador to Russia. Huntsman has said he accepts the position, pending Senate confirmation.

In Kyrgyzstan, more than 25 candidates plan to run in presidential elections scheduled for October 2017. These election campaigns are reported to be the most open and democratic in the history of the five post-Soviet, Central Asian republics. 

NCSEJ Program Associate Benjamin Cohen attended two briefings in Washington this week, one at the Atlantic Council on the future of Russia sanctions and another hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Russian kleptocracy and corruption. For a readout of these events, please follow this link.


Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. July 21, 2017

In meeting with Netanyahu, Hungary's PM acknowledges 'sin' of WWII

By Raphael Ahren

The Times of Israel, July 18, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday acknowledged Hungary’s “sin” in not protecting the country’s Jews during World War II, seeking to quell a controversy over his recent praise for Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy.

Standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hungarian leader also promised a “zero tolerance policy” toward anti-Semitism.

“We are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said. “I want to make it clear that it is our belief that every single Hungarian government has the obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins.”

Read the full article here.

Anti-Semitism, Hungary, and Netanyahu: What you need to know

By Cnaan Lipshiz

JTA, July 19, 2017

To critics of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Hungary this week was a disgrace and an abandonment of local Jews in their fight against a government that is widely seen as one of Europe’s worst promoters of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism.

Yet other Hungarian Jewish leaders and observers of Israel-Hungary relations viewed the visit as both vital to his country’s own interests and effective in assisting Hungarian Jews to promote theirs.

Such were the dynamics when Netanyahu held a joint news conference Tuesday with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, during which Netanyahu devoted exactly 35 words to what he called “the concerns” of the Jewish community in Hungary. He did not specify those concerns in the statement, which kicked off the three-day visit in Hungary — the first by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of communism.

Read the full article here.

EU eastern states say bloc must show more support for Israel

By Marton Dunai and Jeffrey Heller

Reuters, July 19, 2017

Europe should better appreciate Israel’s key role in Middle Eastern stability, leaders of four central European nations said on Wednesday in a joint attack with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Brussels’ current policy toward the state.

The comments were the latest example of divergence between west and east Europe, where questions of national sovereignty, migration and civic freedoms have also stirred friction. U.S. President Donald Trump lent support this month to Poland, target of criticism by the EU he has disdained, with a visit to Warsaw.

Netanyahu met the Visegrad Four leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who backed Israel and called for an improvement in the EU's relations with the state.

Read the full article here.

MH17 Victims Remembered Three Years After Jet's Downing

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 17, 2017

More than 2,000 relatives gathered in the Netherlands to unveil a memorial to family members who were killed when a passenger jet was shot down by a missile over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima on July 17 attended the ceremony the ceremony to dedicate the memorial to flight MH17's victims in Vijfhuizen park, near Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Family members read the names of the 298 passengers and crew killed when the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down during what should have been a routine flight from Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

Most of the passengers were Dutch but there were people of 17 nationalities on board on board the Boeing 777, including Australians, Britons, Malaysians, and Indonesians.

Read the full article here.

Separatists Proclaim a New State to Replace All of Ukraine

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

Associated Press, July 18, 2017

Separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday proclaimed a new state that aspires to include not only the areas they control but also the rest of the country. But Russia, their chief backer, sought to play down the announcement, saying it was merely part of public discussion.

The surprise announcement in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk casts further doubt on the 2015 cease-fire deal that was supposed to stop fighting in Ukraine's industrial heartland and bring those areas back into Kiev's fold while granting them wide autonomy. Some rebels said they have no intention of joining the new state.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting since Russia-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The rebels originally sought to join Russia but the Kremlin stopped short of annexing the area or publicizing its military support for the rebels.

Read the full article here.

Yiddish comes alive in Warsaw every summer

By Kateryna Markusz

JTA, July 14, 2017

When Gołda Tencer, the director of the Shalom Foundation and the Jewish Theater in Warsaw, lit the Sabbath candles last Friday, she was accompanied by dozens of people from various countries. Though their mother tongues differed, the voices at the table were united by a common language: Yiddish.

The assembled crowd of about 60 had come to this capital city for three weeks in July to study Yiddish, learn its grammar, sing songs and discover  something about Jewish-Polish history.

The International Seminar in Yiddish Language and Culture, which Tencer founded, is now in its 15th year. Classes are held in Muranów, a district that was once heavily Jewish and where the Warsaw Ghetto was established. It was here, during World War II, that Emanuel Ringelblum hid his archive that contained thousands of Yiddish documents about the extermination of Jews. And it is here that the seminar seeks to build upon the rich legacy of the Yiddish-speaking world.

Read the full article here.

Poland’s Drift Away from Democracy

By Judy Dempsey

Carnegie Europe, July 18, 2017

Since Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government was elected in October 2015, it has systematically moved to consolidate its power. The country’s public media have lost their independent voice. The powers of the supreme court have been curtailed. Managers of enterprises have been replaced. Human rights, especially for women, have been constantly undermined.

The latest and most damaging development with regard to the strength and durability of Poland’s democratic structures is PiS’s move against the entire judiciary. The country’s legislative, executive, and judicial powers will now be controlled by PiS and administered by the justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro. New legislation pushed through the parliament during a late-night session on July 12 gives Ziobro the right to appoint and dismiss judges, including those on the supreme court. The independent body that nominated judges is being disbanded.

Furthermore, the justice minister now has the right to dismiss the presidents of regional and appellate courts. What this means is that if PiS wants to silence the opposition and its critics by bringing what opponents believe will be trumped-up corruption charges, the government will have a compliant judiciary at its disposal. PiS has “crushed the judicial system in Poland,” said Ewa Łętowska of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Read the full article here.

Poland’s Defense Minister Fends Off Anti-Semitism Allegations By Citing His Support for Israel

By Larry Cohler-Esses

Forward, July 21, 2017

Fending off charges that he has promoted anti-Semitism, Poland’s defense minister Thursday cited the support he and his government give to Israel and comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praising Poland for this support.

In a lengthy email to the Forward, a spokesman for Antoni Macierewicz, who published and edited a far-right newspaper that ran anti-Semitic material under his tenure, cited recent talks between Netanyahu and leaders of several East European countries.

During those talks, noted Macierewicz’s spokesman, Netanyahu declared, “I will say that Poland has taken a resolute stand against the resurgent anti-Semitism that we see in parts of Europe….We also know that Poland has taken an important position in international forums against the automatic reflex of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel resolutions.”

Macierewicz “was one of four members of the cabinet, who, alongside the Prime Minister of Poland…participated in the consultations,” the spokesman, Edmund J. Janniger, wrote. “Minister Macierewicz has proven to be a stalwart friend of Israel with a strong record of support for the Jewish people.”

Read the full article here.

Kyrgyzstan sets stage for open presidential election

By Henry Foy

Financial Times, July 16, 2017

Competitive elections are few and far between in Central Asia, a region better known for its longstanding, autocratic leaders. But gold-exporting Kyrgyzstan is on course for the region’s most open presidential election in history with dozens of candidates in contention as the ruling party’s control over the ballot slips.

The Social Democratic party on Saturday agreed to officially nominate Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the prime minister, as its candidate for the October poll. However, in a sign of the uncertainty around the election, Chynybai Tursunbekov, a party colleague and parliamentary speaker, confirmed he would also stand.

In stark contrast to elections in neighbouring states such as Kazakhstan, Taijikistan and Turkmenistan where incumbents typically claim victory with more than 90 per cent of the vote, Mr Jeenbekov and Mr Tursunbekov join 26 other candidates in the wide open race to succeed Almazbek Atambayev, who is standing down after one six-year term in office, as prescribed by law.

Read the full article here.

Trump’s Man in Moscow: Russia Envoy Nominee Faces Challenging Post

By Mike Eckel

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 19, 2017

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, will have his diplomatic experience and business acumen put to the test should he represent U.S. interests in Moscow.

His posting, which still must be approved by the Senate, would face major challenges as the Trump administration struggles with congressional and FBI investigations into the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election that brought Trump to power. Russia has denied the claims.

A veteran diplomat who has served in the administrations of five U.S. presidents and was a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Huntsman has limited experience when it comes to Russia.

Read the full article here.

Leading Russian rabbi criticizes local court for blacklisting book by 19th-century rabbi

JTA, July 18, 2017

A prominent rabbi from Russia condemned a ruling by a court in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi that blacklisted and labeled as extremist a book penned by a 19th-century rabbi.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and a key figure within Russia’s Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities, called “absurd” Monday’s ruling by a district court in the city to classify as extremist the book “Forcibly Baptized” by Rabbi Marcus Lehmann.

The novel, which deals with a Jew’s determination to retain his faith despite external pressures to renounce it, was added to the federal list of extremist materials of the Ministry of Justice of Russia.

Read the full article here.

In Moldova, a synagogue with a terrible history is for sale on Holocaust Street

By Julie Masis

The Times of Israel, July 20, 2017

EDINETS, Moldova — In a small town in northern Moldova, a former synagogue is for sale on Holocaust Street.

The building, where some 90 Jewish townsfolk were executed during World War II, is being offered for 65,000 euros ($75,000) by a Moldovan owner who said “he wasn’t aware of its history.”

The owner did not wish to give his name, and asked that this journalist not take photos inside the crumbling synagogue or in the yard, which he currently rents out for approximately $100 per month to a car junkyard.

The small street where the synagogue stands was renamed “Holocaust Street” in 2003 in memory of the people who were executed inside the synagogue, said Iurii Zagorcea, a former city councilor from the Socialist Party who was behind the name change, along with his school administrator wife, Tatiana.

Read the full article here.

Armenia and Azerbaijan’s collision course over Nagorno-Karabakh

By Olesya Vartanyan and Magdalena Grodno

Open Democracy, July 14, 2017

Twenty-three years after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire deal that ended a bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a steady drumbeat of armed escalation is making a return to large-scale violent conflict more likely than ever before.

Last April, a four-day flare-up killed at least 200 people. Further skirmishes continue to inflict casualties along the Line of Contact (LoC), the 200km frontline which separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Both sides intermittently employ heavy artillery and anti-tank weapons against each other. In May this year, there were reports of self-guided rockets and missiles falling near densely populated areas. On 4 July, a two-year-old girl and her grandmother in the Azerbaijani village of Alkhanli were killed.

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.