WASHINGTON, D.C. August 26, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
This week Ukraine celebrated 25 years of independence. During this time, Ukraine has undergone a significant transformation, but challenges remain: the conflict in Donbas continues to undermine Ukraine’s stability, and more needs to be done to fight corruption and reform the country.
President Petro Poroshenko has said that Ukraine needs international support. He has urged the international community to continue backing Ukraine, while keeping pressure on Russia to implement the Minsk ceasefire agreement. The update includes several articles that analyze Ukraine’s progress since independence, and the current situation in the country.
Vice President Joe Biden travelled to Europe this week, and met with leaders of the Baltic states. He reassured Baltic leaders of the U.S. commitment to defend its NATO allies, once again confirming that “an attack on one is an attack on all….” He also warned European countries about relying on Russian energy supplies, cautioning against a new natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which would bypass Ukraine and Slovakia.
Five hundred European rabbis arrived in Moscow this week to discuss issues of importance to the Jewish community. The rabbis will visit several cities and Jewish communities throughout Russia, and will discuss anti-Semitism, measures to combat terrorism and extremism, and the future of Jewish communities in Europe and across Russia.
Also in Moscow, Limmud FSU organized an exhibition to honor Elie Wiesel at the Israeli Cultural Center. The exhibition featured dozens of photographs and other items that commemorate Elie Wiesel’s life. Two chief Rabbis of Russia, Berel Lazar and Adolf Shayevich, as well as other leaders of the Russian Jewish community attended the opening of the exhibit.
The update includes two articles that discuss the upcoming parliamentary (Duma) elections in Russia on September 18. The articles discuss prominent candidates, analyze possible outcomes, and review the potential for fraud and other electoral manipulations.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. August 26, 2016
Biden Calls Nord Stream 2 Pipeline ‘Bad Deal For Europe’
RFE/RL, August 25, 2016
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said the United States believes the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline project involving Russia is a "fundamentally bad deal for Europe.”
"To lock in great reliance on Russia will fundamentally destabilize Ukraine," Biden said on August 25 during a visit to Stockholm, adding that Europe “needs diverse sources of gas."
Last year, Russia's Gazprom and its European partners agreed the project to build a second pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.
"No country should be able to use energy as a weapon. No country should be able to use energy to coerce policies or actions from other nations," Biden said, in a veiled reference to Russia, which has on several occasions cut off gas supplies to Ukraine amid disputes. Read the full article here.
Putin, Netanyahu speak by phone on Israeli-Palestinian peace process
JTA, August 25, 2016
President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spoke by phone about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process two days after Putin reportedly offered to hold direct talks in Moscow.
Putin and Netanyahu also addressed other Middle East concerns, according to Haaretz.
Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, said Putin was willing to host Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the talks.
In announcing the Putin offer on Sunday, al-Sissi said his country supports the efforts and that “both sides are urged to participate and respond positively to the initiative for the sake of finding light at the end of the tunnel for Palestinians and establishing their state alongside Israel.”
Erdogan Tells Poroshenko Turkey Won't Recognize Crimea As Russian
RFE/RL, August 20, 2016
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reassured his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko that Ankara will continue to recognize the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia, as Ukrainian territory.
The Ukrainian presidential press service said on August 20 that Erdogan told Poroshenko via telephone that Turkey has not changed its "unwavering position regarding its support of Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity in the country's internationally recognized borders."
Erdogan added that Ankara would not recognize "Crimea's occupation" and would continue to support "the Crimean Tatars in every possible way."
Russian Jewish community waiting for explanation of Vasilyeva's attitude to Stalin era
Interfax, August 22, 2016
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) has urged the new education minister Olga Vasilyeva to clarify her attitude to the era of terror under Stalin.
"I hope for a clarification of the matter. I believe it is very important for the new minister to explain her attitude and not leave room for ambiguity because this is vital not only for education in Russia but for the future of the country in general," head of the FJCR PR department Boruch Gorin told Interfax-Religion on Monday.
He said that in the course of the public debate on Vasilyeva's appointment quotations have cropped up "which being torn out of context don't add optimism about the new education minister."
"If talk of the efficiency of the Stalin period and the exaggeration of the ideas of the atmosphere of terror that existed then are in question, this talk is very familiar to me because this is the style of talk of deniers of the Holocaust - that allegedly in reality someone sometimes engaged in the Holocaust but it was not so often, not so much and not too bad. And try to prove the opposite to them. The deniers of Holocaust usually claim that there are no thousands of witnesses who remember not so much the numbers and figures, but what happened is the atmosphere of terror and persecution of a group of people," Gorin said.
Read the full article here.
500 rabbis gather at summit in Moscow, rabbi Lazar says situation with anti-semitism in Europe critical
Interfax, August 22, 2016
A total of 500 rabbis from over 30 European countries arrived at the Moscow Jewish Community Center in Moscow's Maryina Roshcha District to discuss the issues of the development of Jewish community life and fight against anti-semitism in Europe, the press service of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) said on Monday.
"The very fact that such a large-scale conference of rabbis is being held in our country suggests positive changes, which happened in Russia in the past decade. Owing to the stringent policy of the country's government against any manifestation of anti-semitism, this occurrence becomes marginal. The religious communities are carrying out vigorous educational and spiritual activities in all populated localities in the country, not only in its major cities," Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar said in his speech at the event.
The state is returning religious property to believers, new churches instead of the ones destroyed in the last century are being built every year, the ties between the representatives of the traditional religions are developing, Lazar said.Read the full article here.
U.S. Holocaust museum slams Hungarian award to ‘racist’ journalist
JTA, August 23, 2016
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum slammed the decision by the Hungarian state to grant a prestigious award to Zsolt Bayer, a journalist long criticized for articles deemed racist and anti-Semitic.
The state awarded Bayer the Knights Cross of the Order of Merit last week.
“This award is intended to recognize individuals who demonstrate excellence in service to the country and ‘the promotion of universal human values,’” the museum said in a statement. “Bayer has a long record of racist speech and has written highly provocative anti-Semitic and anti-Roma articles in the Hungarian media.”
“He has referred to Jews as ‘stinking excrement’ and has written hateful pieces about the Roma, calling them ‘animals’ that ‘should not be allowed to exist,’” the museum statement added.
The museum called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who heads the Fidesz party, and President Janos Ader to rescind the award “immediately.” Presenting it, the museum said, “reflects the long-standing refusal of the leadership of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party to distance itself from Bayer, in spite of Bayer’s repeated pattern of racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Roma incitement.”Read the full article here.
Jewish center slated for southern Poland town
JTA, August 24, 2016
A Jewish center will be built in Radomsko in southern Poland, which has been empty of Jews since the Holocaust.
The center, funded by the Polish Jewish community, will be built next to the town’s Jewish cemetery. It is being constructed in order to host the hundreds of Hasidic visitors to the cemetery who each year make pilgrimages to the grave of Shlomo Chanoch Hakohen Rabinowicz, the fourth and last Rebbe of the Radomsk Hasidic dynasty. Rabinowicz built a network of 36 yeshivas across Poland and Galicia that enrolled over 4,000 students by 1939. He and his entire family were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto in August 1942.
The foundation stone for the new Jewish center was laid on Monday. The center will include a room of memory dedicated to the history of the town’s Jews.Read the full article here.
'Polish death camps' fight spills onto pages of The New York Times
The Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2016
Holocaust experts said earlier in August that a Polish bill to jail people who use the term “Polish death camps” was based on a correct demand, but blown out of proportion.
Polish sensitivity around the extent of its complicity in the Holocaust has reached the headlines once more.
Roger Cohen, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote in an article on Tuesday that "Plenty of Poles collaborated (with the Nazis), but some did not." Cohen used the Jedwabne pogrom to illustrate that in numerous incidents, Polish civilians voluntarily massacred their Jewish neighbors while the country was under Nazi occupation.
The article did not stand uncontested, however. The Auschwitz Museum's official Twitter account rebuked Cohen for his assertion, tweeting that the phrase was "false and unjust."
Cohen responded that "plenty means plenty," and listed more examples of Polish complicity, bringing in research from the US Holocaust Museum to back-up his claim.Read the full article here.
Russia Begins Military Exercises on Land, at Sea
Voice of America, August 25, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced snap military exercises on land, and in the Black and Caspian Seas, the defense ministry said in a statement.
The drills began at 7:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) Moscow time Thursday in Russia's southern, western and central military districts where troops have been put on combat alert, the statement said.
They will last until the end of the month and will involve various units and troops, from paratroopers to the Northern Fleet.
The latest military exercises come a week after Russia announced it was using an air base in Iran for bombing runs inside Syria. Russia has since withdrawn from the Iranian base. Also in the last week, President Putin verbally attacked Ukraine for allegedly employing its military intelligence to carry out acts of sabotage in Russia-annexed Crimea.
Europe's Forgotten Refugees
By Beth Mitchneck, Jane Zavisca, and Theodore P. Gerber
Foreign Affairs, August 24, 2016
In recent years, international headlines have featured stories and images of the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and its effects in western Europe. Few are aware, however, that the fourth-largest source of internal refugees in 2015 was within Europe itself.
Ukraine now keeps company with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen as one of the world’s leading producers of internal refugees. Figures vary, but by most estimates there are around 1.7 million internally displaced in Ukraine and another 1.4 million Ukrainians living as refugees in western Europe and Russia. Refugees first trickled out of Crimea after its annexation by Russia in early 2014, but their numbers surged after civil war broke out, following the Russian-backed proclamation of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine. The two internationally brokered cease-fire agreements—Minsk and Minsk II—have since failed to produce an enduring peace.
Ukraine's Poroshenko strikes martial tone on independence day
By Natalia Zinets
Reuters, August 24, 2016
Ukraine put on a show of military strength on independence day on Wednesday amid fresh tension with Russia over Crimea and President Petro Poroshenko said the country had to rely on its own might rather than international guarantees.
A march-past of army, navy and airforce units and hardware in the capital was intended to highlight the capability of Ukraine's military, which the government has had to overhaul since pro-Russian eastern separatists rose up against a new Western-backed leadership in 2014.
The fresh tension over Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014, has reignited fears that a fragile ceasefire deal brokered in February 2015 with the help of Germany and France, could collapse following the deadliest month of fighting in eastern Ukraine in a year.
"From this parade, our international partners will get the message that Ukraine is able to protect itself, but needs further support," Poroshenko told a large crowd of civilians and military personnel.
For Ukraine, an independence day marked by deep public frustration
By Fred Weir
Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2016
The distance between Ukraine and its giant neighbor to the east was readily apparent in today's celebration of Ukraine's 25th anniversary of independence from the USSR, if you knew where to look.
Some signs were quiet, like the marching soldiers' new, Western-style uniforms – a break from the Ukrainian military's hitherto Soviet-style appearance. Others were quite overt, such as President Petro Poroshenko's defiant talk of fighting until victory against Moscow-backed separatists in the country's troubled east.
But despite the showmanship, the reality behind the country's independence day – its third since the Maidan Revolution triggered civil conflict and a still-intensifying split with Russia – is that Ukraine's situation remains grim. Ukraine has defied terrible odds by surviving more than two years of extreme hardship, and government paralysis was relieved by a reshuffle that consolidated President Poroshenko's hold on power last April. But the economy remains stagnant, the fight against corruption and behind-the-scenes oligarchic rule has shown little progress, and there are ubiquitous signs that public patience is running out.
Read the full article here.
Dueling Indictments As Russia, Ukraine Target Each Other's Military Leaders
Read the full article here.
RFE/RL, August 24, 2016
Russia and Ukraine traded salvos this week with dueling criminal investigations against each other's top military brass, a new front in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko launched the opening legal hand grenade on August 22, announcing a probe into Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and 19 other Russian military and civilian officials.
Lutsenko said the officials are suspected of "committing especially serious crimes against the foundations of Ukraine's national and civil security, peace, and international law and order," adding that Kyiv plans to seek international warrants for their arrests.
Not be outdone, Russia's Investigative Committee returned fire on August 24, saying that a criminal investigation had been opened into Shoigu's Ukrainian counterpart, Stepan Poltorak, and other military officials.
New York Times says suspected Russian hackers targeted Moscow bureau
Reuters, August 24, 2016
The New York Times said on Tuesday its Moscow bureau was targeted by a cyber attack this month but that there was no evidence the hackers, believed to be Russian, were successful.
"We are constantly monitoring our systems with the latest available intelligence and tools," Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told the newspaper. "We have seen no evidence that any of our internal systems, including our systems in the Moscow bureau, have been breached or compromised."
Earlier on Tuesday, CNN, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other U.S. security agencies were investigating cyber breaches targeting reporters at the Times and other U.S. news organizations that were thought to have been carried out by hackers working for Russian intelligence.
Russian Jews posthumously honor Elie Wiesel, who fought to free them
JTA, August 24, 2016
A Jewish organization working in the former Soviet Union inaugurated an exhibition in Moscow on the life of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
Also in the Russian capital, some 500 Chabad rabbis from across Europe gathered this week for a conference that may be the largest rabbinical gathering ever held there, according to the Chabad movement.
The exhibition, titled “Elie Wiesel, from Sighet to Moscow via France and Israel,” was launched Wednesday by Limmud FSU, which organizes Jewish learning conferences in over a dozen countries with large populations of Russian-speaking Jews.
Prominent figures from Russian Jewry, including the country’s two chief rabbis, Berel Lazar and Avraham Shayevich, attended the opening at the Israeli Cultural Center. The display features dozens of photos from important stations in the life of Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and prolific writer who died last month in New York at 87.
Read the full article here.
God, Stalin and Patriotism — Meet Russia's New Education Chief
By Eva Hartog
Moscow Times, August 24, 2016
For Olga Vasilyeva, it wasn’t the breadlines and high crime rates that made early post-Soviet life a daily trial. It was the public reassessment of the country’s recent, and bloodied, history.
“[The goal was] to blacken the past, to remove from the social consciousness the value of tradition, pride for the greatness of one’s country, culture and language,” she told an audience of teenagers at a seminar on patriotism in late June.
“Astonishing myths” abounded in the 1990s, she said, as she singled out the Ogonyok news magazine that was symbolic of the glasnost era. “If you look at the number of deaths and those repressed [under Soviet rule] cited in Ogonyok, it becomes completely unclear who was left alive at all!” she added, hinting that the figures were greatly exaggerated.Read the full article here.
Putin’s Election Grip Is So Tight Even His Nemesis Can Take Part
By Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik
Bloomberg, August 23, 2016
The last time Vladimir Putin’s political party won national elections, ballot-stuffing allegations sparked the biggest protests of his rule.
Five years on, Putin appears to be so confident in his hold on power that even his most dogged adversary is welcome to challenge United Russia in next month’s parliamentary polls -- Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the London-based former oil billionaire who was charged with murder in absentia in December.
Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison, is back doing what he says got him jailed in the first place: supporting Putin’s opponents. All but one of the 19 candidates he’s grooming have been accepted by authorities overseeing the vote. Since being freed in 2013, Khodorkovsky has vowed to use what’s left of his fortune to hasten the end of the Putin era, though he admits the Kremlin’s grip on the electoral process is so strong it has nothing to fear, for now.
Russia’s Duma election. What to expect
By Max Bader
New Eastern Europe, August 18, 2016
Over the past few years, the Russian authorities have been gradually rolling out a strategy for managing the upcoming State Duma election. What are the elements of this strategy, and will it help the Kremlin achieve its objectives? Like most modern authoritarian regimes which organise elections, the regime in Russia aspires to be viewed as broadly legitimate while keeping political pluralism highly constrained. These two objectives, evidently, are difficult to reconcile. In order to increase legitimacy, the regime allows more electoral competition, but at the same time it has an incentive to minimise competition, to which end it resorts to heavy-handed tactics including fraud, undermining its legitimacy.
Trump and Clinton Have No Idea How to Deal With Putin
By Matthew Rojansky
Foreign Policy, August 24, 2016
Murky links to Moscow and speculation of Kremlin interference have dominated the U.S. election. So how come neither candidate has a coherent Russia policy?
The degree to which Russia has taken center stage in the U.S. presidential election hasn’t been seen since the height of the Cold War. Whether it’s the strange and disturbing details of an apparent Kremlin-sponsored Democratic National Committee email hack or the Donald Trump campaign’s curious and convoluted links to the former Soviet region, Russia and its strongman president Vladimir Putin have emerged as a top U.S. national security concern. But so far, polarizing campaign rhetoric and media sensationalism have largely overshadowed all this attention on Russia.
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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ 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.