Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 5, 2018

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

The Presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania met with President Trump in Washington, DC this week. The three Baltic leaders discussed NATO cooperation and relations with Russia, among other issues of mutual concern. 

Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) coauthored a letter to Mike Pompeo, President Trump's nominee to succeed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, urging him to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. This is an issue we have worked on for several months; in March 2017, I co-authored an op-ed with Dan Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith International, urging President Trump to retain the envoy position. NCSEJ appreciates the support of Members of Congress in advocating for the appointment of the Special Envoy and for joining us in the fight against anti-Semitism.

In this week's update, we share with you two articles about Lithuania, including one article about the country's genocide museum and another about a piece of legislation that would ban sale of material that distorts history. The legislation comes on the heels of publication of Our People by Ruta Vanagaite and Efraim Zuroff, which details how some Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust; publication of the book sparked outrage in the country and the book was pulled from shelves.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. April 5, 2018

Trump Tells Baltic Leaders 'Nobody Tougher On Russia' Than Him

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 3, 2018

The three Baltic presidents, after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, pledged to continue meeting NATO's defense-spending obligations in the hope that the alliance will bolster security along NATO's eastern flank.

"We will continue to commit 2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) toward the development of our military capabilities for the purposes of both strengthening NATO's posture and contributing to international security," Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said after the April 3 White House summit.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite also vowed to continue meeting NATO's defense-spending obligations, indicating they hope the United States will beef up forces in their region.

Read the full article here.

Trump administration to impose fresh sanctions against Russia

By John Hudson, Josh Dawsey, and Shane Harris

Washington Post, April 4, 2018

The United States is expected to impose additional sanctions against Russia by Friday, according to U.S. officials.

The sanctions are economic and designed to target oligarchs with ties to President Vladimir Putin, the officials said. The final number of Russians facing punitive action remains fluid, the U.S. officials said, but is expected to include at least a half-dozen people under sanction powers given to the president by Congress.

In recent weeks, Trump’s national security advisers have pushed for more sanctions after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England, interference in the U.S. 2016 elections and a cyberattack described as the most destructive and costly in history.

The US, and the world, need our anti-Semitism monitor more than ever

By Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 4, 2018

Mr. Pompeo:

Last week, many of our constituents, as well as Jewish families here and abroad, sat down for a seder to commemorate the Exodus story of Passover. Anti-Semitic attacks, threats and incidents were likely a topic of discussion at many tables. Conversations about Jewish communities around the world focused on a key question: Is there a future for these communities in their home countries, or will they be forced into a modern Exodus?

Read the full article here.

Putin Has Overplayed His Hand

By William Burns

New York Times, March 31, 2018

Last week, following the brazen attempt by Russia to assassinate one of its former spies and his daughter in Britain with a chemical weapon, 27 countries expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats. Moscow swiftly and predictably reciprocated, announcing that it would expel 60 American diplomats.

Is this the end of President Trump’s illusion about a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the beginning of a sober, long-term strategy?

Mr. Putin has prided himself on playing a strong game with weak cards. He sees plenty of opportunities to hobble his adversaries abroad and further cement his position at home. That requires engaging in an asymmetric game — relying on dark arts to make inroads in a brutish world, exploiting the vulnerabilities of open societies while highlighting the benefits of his closed one.

Read the full article here.

Where the Genocide Museum Is (Mostly) Mum on the Fate of Jews

By Rod Nordland

New York Times, March 30, 2018

During the Holocaust, many Lithuanian Jews were not killed in Nazi death camps, but by their neighbors, usually shot or even beaten to death. In all, 90 percent of an estimated 250,000 Jews perished, wiping out a community that had been part of Lithuanian life for five centuries.

So it may come as a surprise that in Vilnius, the country’s capital, there is a thriving Jewish community center (including a cafe serving bagels), an expanded new Jewish Museum and fully functioning synagogue — beneficiaries of a Western-looking government that encourages Litvak Jews to return and has proposed to declare 2019 “The Year of the Jew.”

In the Ponary neighborhood, on the outskirts of town, there is a memorial, which eventually included the 70,000 Jews who were stripped naked and shot to death in the forest there. And in the city, there is a huge Museum of Genocide Victims.

Read the full article here.

A Holocaust exposé angered Lithuanian nationalists. Now lawmakers want to ban critical scholarship.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 3, 2018

The Lithuanian parliament is preparing to vote on a government-sponsored bill that would ban selling material that “distorts historical facts” about the nation.

The bill, which Economy Minister Virginijus Sinkevičius submitted Monday, is widely seen as a response to the controversy in Lithuania around the publication of a 2016 book about the Holocaust titled “Our People.” Viewed by some nationalists as an insult to the Lithuanian nation, it is also credited with breaking some taboos in Lithuanian society about collaboration during World War II.

The bill, which according to the Delfi news agency is an amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection, provoked passionate condemnations in Lithuania and beyond by critics who said it curtails freedom of speech and debate about the genocide, in which 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews were killed, mostly by other Lithuanians.

Read the full article here.

The new communists: in Budapest and Warsaw, nationalist governments are stealing pages from their predecessors’ playbooks.

By Lili Bayer
Politico Europe, April 5, 2018

Call it electioneering, Viktor Orbán style.

In the weeks ahead of Hungary’s parliamentary election on Sunday, postboxes across the country delivered some welcome news — courtesy of the prime minister. One letter informed households that due to a one-time action by the government, their next gas bill would be reduced by roughly €38. Another, delivered to each of the country’s more than 2 million pensioners, contained about €32 in gift vouchers.

Much has been written about the assaults on press freedom and civil society by Central European governments in Budapest and Warsaw. Far less attention has been paid to a fact their critics prefer to elide: They keep winning elections.

Read the full article here.

Amid Ominous Stirrings, Passover In A Tiny Jewish Community In Southwestern Poland

By Steve Lipman

The New York Jewish Week, April 2, 2018

The seder tables at 12 Chojnowska St. were filled last Friday night.

At the headquarters of the Jewish community in this industrial city of 100,000 in lower Silesia, on a street in the heart of Legnica’s prewar Jewish neighborhood, about three dozen women, men and children — virtually the entire Jewish community — attended the seder I led on the first night of Passover.

At a time dominated by reports of increasing anti-Semitism caused by the recently enacted law that bars putting the blame for the Holocaust (specifically concentration camps located on Polish soil) on Poland or Poles, no one here expressed fear about taking part in the annual highlight of Jewish life here.

Read the full article here.

Israeli-Owned Bus Station in Poland Built on Jewish Graves

By Lahav Harkov

Jerusalem Post, April 4, 2018

Egged, Israel’s largest bus company, owns a bus station in Makow Mazowiecki, Poland that was built over a Jewish cemetery, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

And the company does not take responsibility for the crumbling memorial to the Jewish community, located on the bus station’s edge, in the town 77 km. north of Warsaw.

The date on which the old Jewish cemetery of Makow Mazowiecki was established is unknown, but the first known mention of it dates back to 1781, according to the Virtual Shtetl website operated by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Polin. It was in use until 1870, when a new cemetery was built.

During World War II, the Germans destroyed the cemetery; in subsequent years, tombstones from the cemetery were used to build sidewalks in the area and a bus station was built there during the communist era.


As Authoritarianism Spreads, Uzbekistan Goes the Other Way

By Andrew Higgins

New York Times, April 1, 2018

Unraveling a police state is never easy, and just how fraught the process can be has been playing out in a basement cell in Uzbekistan, a rare example of a country seeking to tame a vicious security apparatus at a time when many other nations are doing the opposite.

The detention center in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, is where Bobomurod Abdullaev, a freelance journalist, was taken and, according to his wife and lawyer, tortured after agents of Uzbekistan’s feared National Security Service grabbed him off the street in September.

But it was also where Mr. Abdullaev, who has been charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime,” was last month allowed to meet with a prominent human rights lawyer the security service had initially barred — and tell him of his mistreatment.

Two security officers in charge of the investigation have now been removed from the case and are themselves under investigation for misconduct amid a rolling purge of Uzbekistan’s once-untouchable security service.

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.