Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. May 5, 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, Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman confirmed plans to visit Israel in mid-May. The visit was rescheduled from last year, when Ukraine’s vote in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 led Israel to cancel a planned meeting. Then in February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed to resume bilateral efforts to “strengthen the friendship between Israel and Ukraine,” according to a statement by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office.

In a Tuesday phone call, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko congratulated Prime Minister Netanyahu on the 69th anniversary of Israeli independence, and invited him for a reciprocal visit to Ukraine.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (TN) this week said that the committee would not immediately consider new sanctions against Russia. Corker reportedly said he would wait for outcome of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s election activities before considering new sanctions. Instead, the committee will consider an Iran sanctions bill and measures to hold Russia accountable for its destabilizing activities in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Russia this week, and raised a number of contentious issues with President Vladimir Putin. Merkel pushed Putin to ensure a ceasefire in war-torn east Ukraine, confronted Putin on civil rights issues in Russia, and warned against any “foreign meddling” in Germany’s September elections. Putin blamed Ukraine for stalling on ceasefire efforts, but both leaders said the current peace process must continue. Putin denied that Russia has interfered in any foreign elections. 

In Bulgaria, the center-right GERB party, which won a March parliamentary election, named ministers for a coalition government. The move keeps its leader Boiko Borisov in power as prime minister, with support from United Patriots (UP), an alliance of three nationalist parties. The nationalist group secured two deputy prime minister posts and control over the defense, economy and environment ministries. The UP used strongly anti-migrant and anti-Turkish rhetoric during the election campaign.

I want to highlight two important pieces about the crucial work done by NCSEJ’s partner agencies. World Jewish Restitution Organization head Gideon Taylor has coauthored a column in Newsweek, calling on European governments “to complete the unfinished work [of] restitution and compensation of looted property, and to support the growing needs of Holocaust survivors.” He writes, “the chances of Holocaust survivors seeing the return of what is rightly theirs are fading each day…it’s crucial that we accelerate the quest for justice, compassion and restitution.”

And in JTA, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) CEO David Schizer writes about the plight of poor, elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union. These men and women are part of their countries’ “greatest generation.” They have survived war, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the emigration of their communities. JDC is in the forefront of providing for their needs today, and NCSEJ is proud to support its vital efforts.

On June 7 in New York City, NCSEJ holds its Spring Board of Governors meeting, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., with a special presentation by U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Thomas K. Yazdgerdi. For more information and to RSVP, visit http://ncsej.org/board_meeting or call 202-898-2500.

Lesley Weiss
NCSEJ Deputy Director
Washington, D.C. May 5, 2017

Murder investigation opened against 94-year-old Jewish former Soviet officer
JTA, May 1, 2017

Prosecutors in Ukraine initiated a murder investigation against a Jewish former Soviet officer who is suspected of killing a nationalist in 1952.

The General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine opened the probe against 94-year-old Boris Steckler on April 18, the Ist Pravda news website reported last week based on documents it obtained from the National Advocacy Center, a nationalist and anti-Russian not-for-profit group.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia Today – leading outlets for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda, Israeli researchers say
Euromaidan Press, May 1, 2017

In its annual survey of anti-Semitism in the world, the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University says that Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Moscow paper with Russia’s largest print run, and the Russia Today TV channel (and especially its English-language variant) “continue to be the main platforms for noxious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda.”

Read the full article here.

Belarus hopes to develop all-round cooperation with Israel
Belta, May 2, 2017

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has sent greetings to Israel President Reuven Rivlin as the country celebrates Independence Day, BelTA learned from the press service of the Belarusian leader.

By Alexander Fulbright and Raphael Ahren
Times of Israel, April 30, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart during an upcoming visit to Israel next month, after a previously scheduled visit was nixed in protest over Kiev’s support for a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

Volodymyr Groysman, who became Ukraine’s first Jewish prime minister last year, will arrive for a two-day visit in Israel on May 14, in what Hebrew media reports said will mark a formal end to the tensions between Jerusalem and Kiev.

Read the full article here.

Poroshenko invites Netanyahu to visit Ukraine
UkrInform, May 3, 2017

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had a phone conversation with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, the Ukrainian president’s press service reported on Tuesday.

Bulgaria: new hope for Vidin synagogue?
Jewish Heritage Europe, May 1, 2017

The Bulgarian Jewish community is donating the synagogue in Vidin, on the Danube River, to the municipality, raising new hopes that the hulking ruins of the once magnificent building may be restored as a cultural venue and tourist attraction.

The Shalom Association, which represents Bulgarian Jewry, took the decision at a meeting of its consistory assembly in March, after meetings between between Shalom secretary-general Yosif Melamed and Vidin Mayor Ognyan Tsenkov.

Read the full article here.

Exhibition of art looted from Czech Jews opens in Prague
Prague Monitor, May 3, 2017

The exhibition Looted Art describing the fate of the artefacts bought, collected and loved by the Czech Jews the Nazis sent to death during World War Two opened in the Nostic Palace in Prague centre on Tuesday.

The exhibition was prepared by the Centre for the Documentation of Property Transfers of Cultural Artefacts of World War Two Victims that is in charge of the search for the property of its former Jewish owners in Czech state collections.

Read the full article here.

Israel, Jewish group join forces in last bid for Holocaust restitution
By Greer Fay Cashman
Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2017

The Ministry for Social Equality is joining forces with the World Jewish Restitution Organization in what may be a last ditch effort at restitution of Jewish property seized and confiscated during the Holocaust.

In many cases, such property was initially looted by the Nazis and was then subsequently sequestered by the Communists.

Read the full article here.

Russia Risks a Showdown With Israel over Hezbollah in Syria
By Jonathan Schanzer
Newsweek, April 29, 2017

Back in 1967, Moscow shrugged when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, cutting shipping routes to the Israeli port of Eilat—Israel’s only one in the Red Sea. Egyptian and Syrian troop movements on the Israeli border — coupled with Nasser’s fiery rhetoric threatening mass slaughter — paved the way for war. All the while, Moscow fed the Egyptians and Syrians erroneous information about Israeli troop movements.

Read the full article here.

Corker: ‘We’re not going to do a Russia sanctions bill’
By Austin Wright
Politico, May 1, 2017

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have reached a decision that’s sure to disappoint Russia hawks: They’re not taking up a Russia sanctions bill anytime soon.

Instead, Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee and ranking Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland have agreed to move forward on a measure to counter Russian influence in Eastern Europe without using sanctions as well as an Iran sanctions bill.

Read the full article here.

Alexei Navalny Is Now Russia's Outlaw Presidential Candidate
By Kevin Rothrock
Moscow Times, May 3, 2017

A felony conviction against Alexei Navalny is now in force, effectively banning him from running for president for 15 years, though he says he isn’t stopping his presidential campaign.

Read the full article here.

Merkel pushes Putin on Ukraine, gay rights
Maria Panina and Jan Dorner
AFP, May 2, 2017

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin insisted Tuesday that there was no alternative to a stalled Ukraine peace plan as they struggled to mask deep rifts during a first meeting in Russia since 2015.

Merkel pushed Putin at a frosty encounter to ensure a ceasefire in war-torn east Ukraine, but the Russian leader laid the blame on Kiev for a European-brokered peace deal hitting a dead end.

Read the full article here.

Poll: Number Of Russians Who Would Vote For Putin Slips Below 50 Percent
RFE/RL, May 4, 2017

A new opinion poll indicates that 48 percent of voters would cast their ballots for incumbent President Vladimir Putin if Russia's presidential election were held in the near future.

The figure in the April 21-24 poll by the independent Levada-Center was down from 62 percent in a similar poll in April 2015 and 53 percent in January 2016.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Extends Sanctions Relief For Belarus By Six Months
RFE/RL, April 29, 2017

The United States has extended sanctions relief for Belarus by another six months in the continuation of a policy started under the Obama administration to encourage the country to turn away from traditional ally Russia and toward the West.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control on April 28 issued a new waiver extending sanctions relief through October 30. The sanctions were originally imposed over concerns about the human rights situation in Belarus.

Read the full article here.

Tillerson names condition for U.S. to engage with Russia on Ukraine issue
UNIAN, May 3, 2017

The engagement between the United States and Russian Federation in relation to the Ukraine settlement is only possible after a certain level of trust is restored between the two nations, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his address to the State Department’s staff.

In a video released by C-Span, Tillerson is seen calling the “reengagement” with Russia one of the State Department’s top priorities.

Read the full article here.

Bulgaria's Borisov names new coalition government
Reuters, May 3, 2017

The winner of Bulgaria's parliamentary election, the center-right GERB party, named ministers on Wednesday for a coalition government that will see its leader Boiko Borisov return as prime minister for the third time since 2009.

The pro-market and pro-EU GERB, which won a snap election in March but failed to secure an outright majority, has teamed up with United Patriots (UP), an alliance of three nationalist parties, for a four-year term in office.

Read the full article here.

How We Can Help Holocaust Survivors Get Back Their Property
By Gunnar Hökmark and Gideon Taylor
Newsweek, May 1, 2017

“One day I want to walk on the same land on which my mother and my grandmother walked,” says Hania Rosenberg. “My decision to carry on fighting is not based primarily on the value these assets may represent. It was, and still is, about my family roots.”

Last week, Rosenberg, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, went to the European Parliament to appeal for the return of her grandparents’ farm and their three-storey house, seized when the family was deported by the Nazis to the Sosnowiec Ghetto in Poland in World War II.

Read the full article here.

The war never ended for poor, elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union
By David Schizer
JTA, May 2, 2017

We Americans use the phrase “the greatest generation” to describe those who grew up during the Depression, prevailed in World War II and contributed to America’s postwar prosperity and influence. But on a visit last week to Jewish communities in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Belarus’ Minsk and Bobruisk, I came to realize that elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union deserve this recognition as well.

Read the full article here.

Russia, Feeling Slighted by Trump, Seeks a Reset
By Neil MacFarquhar
New York Times, May 3, 2017

Given the spotlight focused on Russia during the American presidential campaign and Donald J. Trump’s warm words as candidate for President Vladimir V. Putin, the Kremlin anticipated a starring role as foreign policy partner No. 1 under the Trump administration.

Instead, while President Trump has been feting every Theresa, Justin and Abdel Fattah at the White House or at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, including a high-profile dinner with President Xi Jinping of China, Mr. Putin has had to content himself with three measly telephone calls since the inauguration.

Read the full article here.

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Telephone: +1 202 898 2500  |  ncsej@ncsej.org
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.