Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 16, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

On Wednesday, by a vote of 97-2, the U.S. Senate passed new sanctions on Russia and Iran. The sanctions on Russia are meant as a punishment for its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, and targets sectors of the Russian economy, and individuals who allegedly staged cyber-attacks on behalf of the government. The Iran sanctions target individuals involved in the Islamic Republic's ballistic missile program, as well as the Revolutionary Guard, which the bill labels a terrorist organization.

Earlier in the week, thousands of demonstrators peacefully protested across Russia against government corruption on the national “Russia Day” holiday. Many protestors were detained by Russian authorities, and leading anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny received a 30-day jail sentence. Human rights groups worldwide spoke out against government detentions of peaceful protestors, calling it a violation of fundamental human rights.

President Putin held his annual phone-in show this week. It was his last scheduled televised question-and-answer session with the public before Russia's next presidential election in March 2018. The production also included displays of text messages and live tweets.

The update includes a Washington Post op-ed by former USAID staffer Josh Cohen pointing out the dangers of rising ultranationalism in Ukraine, as the country struggles to secure a national identity for itself. There is also a piece about documentary filmmaker Richard Schofield. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Kaunas, where he is working to help Lithuanians come to grips with their country’s history as a center of Jewish life, and the destruction of that life, carried out in part by local collaborators, during the Holocaust.

During his testimony before Congress this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the need to appoint a Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. Secretary Tillerson indicated his belief that the effort to fight anti-Semitism globally might be more effective without a full-time advocate. NCSEJ strongly disagrees. We urge the Secretary to appoint an envoy to fill the vacant position.

Also, please see below for some additional photos from last Wednesday’s Spring Board of Governors meeting and the celebration that evening honoring past chairmen Ed Robin, Richard Stone, and Stephen Greenberg.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Evening: "Celebrating A Decade of Leadership"
(l-r) Past Chairman Howard Sachs, Rabbi Jacob Hill,
and Vice-President Rabbi David Hill (Hechler/Kihn)

(l-r) Immediate Past Chairman Stephen Greenberg
and  President Aleksander Smukler (Hechler/Kihn)

Morning: Spring Board of Governors Meeting
Martin Yafe (UJA-Federation of New York) and Barbara Gaffin
(Dnipropetrovsk Kehillah Project, Combined Jewish Philanthropies
of Boston) present a community update on the region. (Hechler/Kihn)

Victoria Brumina, Director General, Union of Belarusian Jewish
Public Associations and Communities (Hechler/Kihn)

Washington, D.C. June 16, 2017

Senate passes sanctions bill on Iran, Russia

By Gary Willig

Arutz Sheva, June 15, 2017

By a vote of 97-2, the US Senate passed a bipartisan bill to impose financial sanctions on Iran and Russia on Wednesday.

The sanctions on Russia serve as punishment for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The bill imposes sanctions on a number of important sectors of the Russian economy, such as mining, metals, shipping and railways. Individuals believed to have carried out the alleged cyber-attacks on behalf of the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin were also targeted. The sanctions on Iran target individuals involved in the Islamic Republic's ballistic missile program. as well as anyone who does business with them. In addition, the resolution applies sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization and calls for the enforcement an arms embargo against the organization.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s ultra-right militias are challenging the government to a showdown

By Joshua Cohen

Washington Post, June 15, 2017

As Ukraine’s fight against Russian-supported separatists continues, Kiev faces another threat to its long-term sovereignty: powerful right-wing ultranationalist groups. These groups are not shy about using violence to achieve their goals, which are certainly at odds with the tolerant Western-oriented democracy Kiev ostensibly seeks to become.

According to a study from activist organization Institute Respublica, the problem is not only the frequency of far-right violence, but the fact that perpetrators enjoy widespread impunity.

To be clear, Russian propaganda about Ukraine being overrun by Nazis or fascists is false. Far-right parties such as Svoboda or Right Sector draw little support from Ukrainians. Even so, the threat cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Read the full article here.

Telling The Truth in Lithuania

By Rhona Lewis

Jewish Press, June 12, 2017

Who is telling Lithuanians about the Jewish communities that vanished during World War II? Richard Schofield, founder and Creative Director of the International Centre for Litvak Photography (IC4LP), has brought together a group of Lithuanian activists to spearhead a number of ambitious projects that are opening the minds of Lithuanians, particularly young Lithuanians, to what really happened.

IC4LP’s newest project targets the youth. “Litvaks are not being correctly taught their own history,” says Schofield. His conclusion is backed by sixteen years of calling Lithuania home as well as a friendship with Dr. Christine Beresniova of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Dr. Beresniova recently authored a book titled Holocaust Education in Lithuania on how to deal with the history and legacy of mass atrocities and local collaboration during the Holocaust.

Read the full article here.

Navalny, Hundreds Of Others Detained At Russian Anticorruption Protests

June 12, 2017

MOSCOW -- Riot police in Moscow and St. Petersburg have detained nearly 1,000 anticorruption protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, clamping down on unauthorized demonstrations organized by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Police detained more than 600 people at the June 12 protest on Moscow's central Tverskaya Street, according to OVD-Info, which monitors police actions at protests.

Officials in St. Petersburg reported that more than 300 people were detained there. Activists in St. Petersburg immediately began collecting money for a legal-defense fund.

Read the full article here.

Russian Lawmakers Approve Plan to Relocate 1.6 Million Muscovites

By Ivan Nechepurenko

New York Times, June 14, 2017

MOSCOW — At least 16 protesters were detained in front of the Russian Parliament building on Wednesday as legislators approved a plan that could uproot up to 1.6 million Muscovites from their aging Soviet-era residences and move them into newly built apartments.

The resettlement plan, which has been hotly contested, has been one of the issues feeding protests this spring in the capital. Opponents of the plan also participated in demonstrations against corruption and political stagnation on Monday.

Read the full article here.

Polish prime minister under fire for defending refugee ban during Auschwitz speech

JTA, June 15, 2017

WARSAW, Poland —Beata Szydlo spoke Wednesday at ceremonies marking the 77th anniversary of the first deportation of prisoners to the Nazi concentration camp. “Auschwitz is a great lesson in today’s turbulent time that everything must be done to protect the security and life of one’s citizens,” Szydlo said.

The quote was published on the official Twitter account of the ruling Law and Justice Party. It was removed after a few hours. The comment spurred outrage throughout Poland, with many believing it to be a defense of the nationalist party government’s decision not to accept any refugees as part of a European Union plan to resettle migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Read the full article here.

Rex Tillerson retreats from commitment to fill anti-Semitism envoy position

By Ron Kampeas

JTA, June 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson retreated from his department’s commitment to fill the post of envoy to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort may be more effective without one.

“One of the questions I’ve asked is, if we’re really going to affect these areas, these special areas, don’t we have to affect it through the delivery on mission at every level at every country?” Tillerson said in testimony Wednesday to the foreign operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. “And by having a special envoy, one of my experiences is, mission then says, ‘oh, we’ve got somebody else that does,’ and then they stop doing it.”

Read the full article here.

Anti-Semitism lives on in Belarus, despite small number of Jews

By Alexander Burakov

Deutsche Welle, June 13, 2017

A higher court in Belarus has confirmed the verdict in the case of three young neo-Nazis from the city of Mogilev. In November 2016, the skinheads smeared black paint on a monument for Holocaust victims. Investigators worked on their case for three months. In February, they were convicted of hooliganism. Appeals in their case took another three months. But now, the oldest of the group, a 19-year-old student, has been sentenced to two years in prison. His 18-year-old friend will serve six months behind bars, while the third member of the group was given six months on probation on account of being a minor.

Anti-Semitism remains an issue in Mogilev, according to the coordinator of the Viasna human rights center, Alexei Koltshin. The center regularly produces a "Nazi graffiti map" showing all the places where Nazi symbols or racist slogans have been discovered.

Read the full article here.

Jewish film and culture celebrated at Moscow festival

By Juri Rescheto

Deutsche Welle, June 14, 2017

The Moscow Jewish Film Festival began its third edition this week, showcasing a proud Jewish film tradition - and sense of humor - in times of religious hate and intolerance.

For a week, Jewish jokes, Jewish customs, Jewish culture, Israel's politics, but also topics such as the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, will enrich the Moscow public. The aim of the festival is to show how special Jewish cinema can be.

The festival comprises 50 screenings in eight days, including feature films, short films and documentaries from Israel, Russia, Europe and the US, plus special events and discussions. The packed program is dedicated to one thing above all: faith in humanity and the belief that it can be improved.

Read the full article here.

Hamas, Hezbollah ‘not terrorists,’ Russian envoy to Israel says

By Sue Surkes

Times of Israel, June 14, 2017

Russia’s ambassador to Israel has said that his country does not consider the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah to be terrorist organizations, as they have not carried out attacks on Russian territory or against Russian interests abroad.

In a June 9 interview with the Israeli Russian-language Channel 9 TV, Alexander Shein said, “We do not consider these organizations to be terrorist,” according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute media watchdog, which posted and translated the clip.

Read the full article here.

UN Says Ukraine Conflict Escalating Amid Cease-Fire Violations

RFE/RL, June 13, 2017

The report says that since the conflict began in mid-April of 2014, at least 10,090 people have been killed -- included 2,777 civilians. It said at least 23,966 people have been injured and more than 1.6 million people displaced by the fighting.

The report says the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine recorded 36 conflict-related civilian deaths and 157 injuries from February 16 to May 15 -- a 48 percent increase on the previous three months.

Read the full article here.

Trump calls Romanian Holocaust remembrance a ‘vital cause’

JTA, June 13, 2017 2:21pm          

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump saluted the Holocaust remembrance efforts in Romania as a “vital cause.” Trump made the remarks during a joint news conference Friday in Washington, D.C., with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

“Romanians have made many contributions to the United States, and to the world,” Trump said. “Very notable among them was Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who was born in Romania and, sadly, passed away almost one year ago. And I understand that earlier this week, the American Jewish Committee presented President Iohannis with its very prestigious Light Unto the Nations Award for his work to further Holocaust remembrance and education in Romania. I join the AJC in saluting your leadership in that vital cause.”

Read the full article here.

The Czech town trying to keep its Jewish past buried

By Rob Cameron

BBC News, June 13, 2017

Prostejov, Czech Republic -- Plans to rehabilitate a pre-war Jewish cemetery in the Czech town of Prostejov have run into fierce local opposition. The foundation behind the plan says it has been torpedoed by deliberate misinformation and anti-Semitism. Today, it is a small park, bordered by houses and a school. But 74 years after its desecration, plans to rehabilitate it have caused uproar.

"I think the mayor pretty much summed it up when she said the rights of the living must take precedence over the rights of the dead," deputy mayor Zdenek Fiser told me at Prostejov's splendid town hall.

Read the full article here.

Warsaw mayor may have to return her home to Jews

Associated Press, June 12, 2017

Warsaw's city mayor and other officials will be summoned this month to testify before a special state commission investigating questionable restitution of private property that was seized under communism, the deputy justice minister said Monday. The committee may eventually decide that the mayor must return her home to the Jews it was taken from during WWII.

The commission was formed recently in response to growing outrage at the returns, which concern highly valuable plots and buildings, in Warsaw and some other cities, that were seized by the state from private owners—Poles, Jews and others—under a 1945 communist-era decree.

Read the full article here.

Anti-Semitic messages found at historic Romanian synagogue

AFP, June 13, 2017

Members of Romania’s Jewish community filed a complaint with police Monday after anti-Semitic graffiti and Holocaust-denying messages were discovered on the facade of a synagogue in the of Cluj-Napoca.

He said the wall of the building had been defaced with graffiti of a Star of David crossed out with an ‘X’ and a message written in English “The Holocaust never happened.”

Read the full article here.

Putin Emphasizes The Positive In Marathon Question-And-Answer Show

By Robert Coalson

RFE/RL, June 15, 2017

In his last scheduled televised question-and-answer session with the public before Russia's next presidential election in March 2018, President Vladimir Putin sought to convey confidence and competence.

Putin responded to a wide range of questions in the four-hour Direct Line program on June 15, which was heavily stage-managed to depict him and his government in the best possible light.

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.