Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 8, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

On Tuesday, NCSEJ held its annual Board of Governors meeting in Washington, DC. This year, our featured speakers and presenters included Robert Grey, Finance Committee Member and Mission Chair for World ORT, Bulgarian Ambassador to the United States Tihomir Stoytchev, writer Lev Golinkin, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Kavalec. NCSEJ President Sasha Smukler and I also spoke about the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington for Soviet Jewry. To listen to our presentation, please follow this link.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been traveling in Europe this week and on Thursday, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Vienna at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He vowed there would be no serious warming in relations between Washington and Moscow if Russian-backed troops remain in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea is not returned to Ukraine.

In Kyiv this week, clashes broke out between police and protesters supporting former President of Georgia and ex-Governor of Ukraine's Odesa region, Mikhail Saakashvili. Authorities apprehended Saakashvili on the rooftop of his apartment building where he was addressing his supporters with remarks against current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin confirmed this week he will seek another term in office in next year's elections. Putin has served as President of the Russian Federation since 2012, and before that from 2000-2008.

In Poland, construction at the site of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Siemiatycze led to the exhumation of human remains from the ground. NCSEJ has been in contact with Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and the Polish government, which is addressing the issue at the local and national level. We will keep you informed as the situation develops. 

Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydlo resigned yesterday. Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will succeed her. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors, or JUST Act this week. The act, co-sponsored by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), seeks to strengthen restitution rights for Holocaust survivors.

As Chanukah approaches, we remind you to donate to NCSEJ's annual Chanukah Appeal. We need your support to continue to advocate for and protect Jewish communities in the Eurasia region. To donate, please visit our website to contribute with PayPal, call us at 202-898-2500, or mail a check to 1120 20th St NW, Suite 300N, Washington, DC 20036.

We wish you all a Happy Chanukah.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
(Left to right): NCSEJ Chairman Daniel Rubin with Bulgarian Ambassador Tihomir Stoytchev
(Left to right): NCSEJ President Alexander Smukler and CEO Mark Levin discuss the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Kavalec
Writer Lev Golinkin
World ORT Finance Committee Member and Mission Chair Robert Grey
Washington, D.C. December 8, 2017

How a march to save Soviet Jews changed America – and the world

By Mikhail Fridman

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 2017

Thirty years ago, Jews in the Soviet Union were not allowed to study Hebrew, eat kosher food, talk about Zionism, go to a synagogue or, most important, leave the country. If they tried to emigrate, they would almost certainly be refused, lose their jobs and be blackballed in their professions. They would then be put on trial and imprisoned for being unemployed.

Thirty years ago, American Jews understood that if Soviet Jews were being silenced, American Jews would have to be loud.

On Dec. 6, 1987, some 250,000 American Jews got very loud. They gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the plight of their Soviet brethren on the eve of a U.S.-Soviet summit. Organizers weren’t sure the demonstrations would work – and there was real worry that a small

demonstration would do more damage than no demonstration at all. But after 25 years of tireless activism, American Jews gathered in huge numbers and used their voices to change history.

Tillerson vows no warming with Russia until it leaves Ukraine

By Carol Morello

Washington Post, December 7, 2017

The gulf between the United States and Russia showed no signs of narrowing Thursday, as top diplomats from the two countries faced off over a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force in Ukraine.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed that there will be no easing of sanctions on Russia or warming of relations until Moscow stops supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine and abandons the “apparent annexation” of Crimea.

“We can have differences in other areas, but when one country invades another, that is a difference that is hard to look past or to reconcile,” Tillerson told reporters at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a group created during the Cold War to encourage dialogue between East and West.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Reform Activists Derail Effort to ‘Destroy’ Anticorruption Body

By Christopher Miller

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 7, 2017

Ukrainian activists and reformist lawmakers worked tirelessly overnight to remove a bill from parliamentary consideration that they say would "destroy" the country's only independent investigative body by dismissing its chief.

By the morning of December 7, after hours of frantic calls to Western allies for support, they had won a small victory in a battle that looks set to continue: The legislation was not on the Verkhovna Rada’s agenda for that day.

The highly controversial bill, which would see Artem Sytnyk removed as the head of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) of Ukraine, was authored by lawmakers from the parties of President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Read the full article here.

Saakashvili Defiant As Police Clash With Supporters at Kyiv Protest Camp

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 6, 2017

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president turned Ukrainian opposition leader, has vowed that he will continue to resist arrest after his supporters dramatically freed him from custody in Kyiv.

Facing a deadline to turn himself in to the authorities on December 6, Saakashvili told supporters at a protest camp near parliament that he would not comply.

"I will not show up at the pseudo Prosecutor-General's Office," he said. "I am ready to talk to investigators here in the camp."

"Our plans are clear. Our main goal is to remove a criminal group from power and impeach it," Saakashvili said, referring to President Petro Poroshenko's administration.

Read the full article here.

Putin Confirms He Is Running for President

By Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times, December 6, 2017

President Vladimir V. Putin announced on Wednesday that he would seek a fourth term as president of Russia in a March election that he is expected to win handily.

A full, six-year term until 2024 would make his 24-year tenure — including his years as prime minister — the longest by a Russian leader since Joseph Stalin sat in the Kremlin for 29 years. It is widely believed that Mr. Putin wants to use what should be his last term, barring further constitutional changes, to cement his place as one of the more important historical figures ever to rule Russia.

It has been a somewhat improbable run for Mr. Putin, 65, who spent the bulk of his early career as a middle-level K.G.B. agent in East Germany.

Calling the collapse of the Soviet Union one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century, he has built his formidable popularity on the idea that Russia should restore its natural destiny as a superpower, an equal to the United States in military might and global influence.

Read the full article here.

Russia Designates U.S.-Backed Broadcasters as ‘Foreign Agents’

By Ivan Nechepurenko

New York Times, December 5, 2017

The Russian government declared the broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty “foreign agents” on Tuesday, in retaliation for a similar action against Russian state-run news outlets in the United States.

The Kremlin-financed television station RT America complied last month with an order from the Justice Department that they register as foreign agents. This followed a report by American intelligence agencies in January that concluded that the Kremlin was using RT America as a tool “to undermine faith in the U.S. government and fuel political protest.”

Russian lawmakers and government representatives were infuriated by the decision, rushing through the retaliatory legislation within days. President Vladimir V. Putin signed the law at the end of November.

Read the full article here.

Czech Republic recognizes pre-1967 Jerusalem as capital of Israel

Times of Israel, December 7, 2017

The Czech Republic said in a statement Wednesday that it recognizes the pre-1967 west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but that it will only consider moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to the city after talks with regional partners.

The announcement came hours after US President Donald Trump declared that his administration was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and that he had instructed the US State Department to prepare to move its embassy from Tel Aviv. Trump made no distinction between East or West Jerusalem in his declaration.

“The Czech Republic currently, before the peace between Israel and Palestine is signed, recognizes Jerusalem to be in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Read the full article here.

Why Belarus’s Leader Rejected a Long-Awaited Invitation to Brussels

By Artyom Shraibman

Carnegie Moscow Center, December 5, 2017

At all four previous Eastern Partnership summits from 2009 to 2015, there was a notable absentee. The leaders of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were all present, but the leader of the sixth member country—Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko—was not.

Ahead of those summits, the organizers either discreetly asked Lukashenko not to come, or made it clear that the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” wasn’t invited. The Warsaw summit in 2010 generated a controversy when Minsk sent its ambassador instead of foreign minister, who wasn’t allowed to speak along with the heads of the other delegations.

Now the détente in Minsk-Brussels relations is the new normal, and Lukashenko was finally invited to attend last month’s summit himself. But contrary to expectations, he sent Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei—the country’s traditional negotiating partner with the West—in his place.

Read the full article here.

In Budapest, Hanukkah comes out of the shadows and onto the ice rink

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 5, 2017

The outdoor ice skating rink — the largest in Central Europe — in Budapest’s city center has been part and parcel of Hungary’s Christmas tradition for nearly 150 years.

Stretching across 3.5 acres between Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle, the Budapest City Park Ice Rink draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the country each winter. They come for the Christmas market, the winter festival, and the promise of smooth ice and affordable skate rentals.

It’s an enormous and enormously popular attraction, so City Park Ice Rink is busy nearly every day with the Christmas revelers. Except, however, on the first night of Hanukkah.

Read the full article here.

Senate committee advances restitution bill for Holocaust survivors

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 2017

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill that will help Holocaust survivors and the families of victims obtain restitution or the return of Holocaust-era assets.

On Tuesday, the committee unanimously passed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today, or JUST Act.

The legislation 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.

Romania institutes National Day of the Yiddish Language and Theater

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 5, 2017

Romania’s parliament established a national day celebrating the Yiddish language and theater.

The day, which was declared last week following a unanimous vote, sets aside May 30 as the National Day of the Yiddish Language and Theater in Romania, whose Jewish State Theater is one of Europe’s leading institutions of its kind.

According to the provisions of the new law, each year authorities may organize and take part in cultural, educational, artistic or scientific programs and events dedicated to the promotion of the Yiddish language and theater.

“Yiddish is a living tradition that has transformed over centuries into an exceptional culture for the Jewish people around the world and is an essential part of the identity of Jews in Romania,” Silviu Vexler, a lawmaker in the Parliament of Romania who is Jewish, wrote in a statement about the law he initiated.

Read the full article here.

Human remains dug up during work near Jewish cemetery in eastern Poland

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 7, 2017

Human remains were dug up during construction work near a Jewish cemetery in eastern Poland.

The remains were unearthed on Tuesday during work to modernize the power grid for the city of Siemiatycze. The ground where the remains were uncovered is adjacent to the fence of the Jewish cemetery.

The case is being investigated by the District Prosecutor’s Office in Siemiatycze.

Read the full article here.

Polish PM Beata Szydlo resigns

By Michal Broniatowski

Politico Europe, December 7, 2017

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło submitted her resignation to the Law and Justice (PiS) party leadership Thursday.

PiS leaders decided to replace her with one of her deputies — the minister of finance and economic development, Mateusz Morawiecki — party spokesperson Beata Mazurek told reporters.

“Prime Minister Beata Szydło submitted her resignation to the political committee of the party,” Mazurek said outside PiS headquarters in Warsaw. “The political committee proposed deputy prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki as a candidate to become the prime minister.”

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.