Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. July 29, 2016

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

In a disturbing incident this week, the grave of a 19th century Hassidic Rabbi Aryeh Leib was desecrated with firebombs in the small town of Shpola, in central Ukraine.

This month, the Kyiv city administration approved renaming of one of the streets in Kyiv after a nationalist Stepan Bandera. Bandera was a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which collaborated with the Nazis during WWII. There are also plans to rename a street in Kyiv after Roman Shuhevich, leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose members also engaged in anti-Semitic violence. Bandera and Shukhevich are regarded by many Ukrainians as national heroes who fought for Ukraine’s independence.

Ukraine’s Jewish community is divided on the issue of the renaming of the streets. Last week, several community leaders issued a statement condemning the glorification of nationalists in Ukraine.

We have been in touch with the Ukrainian Jewish community and the government, urging authorities to reconsider the decision.

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine has escalated in recent weeks, raising concerns about the return of full-fledged violence in the Donbas. Ukrainian authorities have called on the international community to step up pressure on Russia to maintain the ceasefire.

Earlier this month, a Holocaust memorial in Minsk was vandalized. NCSEJ contacted the embassy of Belarus about the incident. They informed us that the site has been repaired, and two government ministries are looking into the desecration.

An article earlier this week in The New York Times highlights a decision by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that limits the rights of claimants to restitution for private property confiscated during the Holocaust- or Communist-era in Warsaw. The decision effectively ends the ability of former owners to file new claims, and for those who have already filed claims, creates hurdles that make restitution nearly impossible.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), of which NCSEJ is a member, led the effort to have this law reviewed by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in order to determine its constitutionality, and is leading the effort to publicize this unjust decision and focus attention on the need for Poland to resolve the issue of Holocaust-era restitution by establishing a national program to provide all Jewish and non-Jewish former owners, and their families, with an opportunity to seek restitution or compensation.

Last week, Moldova’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the murder of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators in Moldova during World War II. The declaration also condemns any attempts at denying the Holocaust.

The update includes several articles about the links between the Russian government and the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails. The stories also analyze the motives behind the Kremlin’s efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. July 29, 2016

Firebombs hurled at Hasidic luminary’s grave in Ukraine
JTA, July 26, 2016    

Unknown perpetrators hurled firebombs at the gravesite of a Hasidic luminary in central Ukraine.
The incident in Shpola, a city located 120 miles south of the capital, Kiev, occurred Sunday evening, according to Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
On Monday, Dolinsky wrote on Facebook that the perpetrators tried to set on fire a structure built near the gravesite of Aryeh Leib, who died in 1811 and was an important disciple of Dov Ber of Mezeritch, an influential 18th-century Hasidic rabbi.
Separately, approximately 200 people in the west Ukrainian city of Ternopil presented local authorities with a petition to remove from the city’s coat of arms a star shape they said was a Jewish symbol, the Star of David.

 Read the full article here.

Moldovan Parliament condemns Holocaust
Publika, July 22, 2016

The Chisinau Legislature has passed a political declaration on accepting the Report of the International Committee for the Holocaust. The document condemns the persecution and extermination of Jews by the Nazis and collaborators on the current territory of Moldova from 1937 to 1944.
The Declaration also condemns any attempts of ignoring and denying the Holocaust and brings homage to its victims and survivors.
The Parliament sees the declaration as very timely, under the conditions in which ethno-centrism and xenophobia mutilate people and take new shapes in the whole world.
"Condemning and recognizing the Holocaust is not just a political act, it’s a social act, clearly expressing that, by memory and history, we’ll never admit any actions and positions endangering human values. It’s a proof this society is mature, tolerant, European, open, knowing to justly appreciate the past and which will defend its future from intolerance and manipulation," reads the declaration.

Church Procession Passes Peacefully in Kiev Despite Grenade Threat
Moscow Times, July 27, 2016

A controversial Orthodox church procession and prayer service has passed peacefully through Kiev despite earlier reports that grenades had been laid along the route.
The service, arranged by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, saw over 5,000 people march through the Ukrainian capital. A prayer service dedicated to the Baptism of Kievan Rus at Saint Vladimir Hill, a symbolic landmark near the site of a 10th century mass baptism, was also used to call for peace in the country.
Ukrainian intelligence agencies reported earlier in the week that the Russian special services intended to use the procession to “provoke” Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the country's only formally recognized Orthodox church, but has faced increasing pressure for its "ongoing allegiance" to Russia.
The procession was originally barred from entering Kiev due to reports that grenades had been laid along the route, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

IMF To Provide Moldova $179 Million In Loans Linked To Economic Reform
RFE/RL, July 27, 2016

The International Monetary Fund agreed on July 26 to provide Moldova with $179 million in loans over three years if the government carries out economic reforms.
Moldova is one of Europe's poorest nations and the news is a boost to the new government in office since January. The IMF left Moldova in September 2015, saying it would not negotiate loans in light of the disappearance of some $1 billion from three Moldovan banks in a scandal that rocked the country.
Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip told The Associated Press that the IMF's return to Moldova "brings back optimism at home and helps restore our credibility abroad."

Read the full article here.

U.S. rabbi calls on Pope to remove church at Auschwitz
JTA, July 28, 2016

One the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Auschwitz, a U.S. rabbi has called on him to remove a Catholic church from the premises of the Nazi death camp.
The letter sent from Rabbi Avi Weiss, national president of AMCHA-Coalition for Jewish Concerns, was firstreported by The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
Francis arrived in Poland Wednesday to participate in the church’s World Youth Day. He is scheduled to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau on Friday.
Weiss’ letter protesting the presence of the Parish Church of Brzezinka on the grounds of Auschwitz was sent to the pope through New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

Read the full article here.

Polish Court Limits World War II-Era Restitution Claims in Warsaw
By Joanna Berendt
New York Times, July 27, 2016

Poland’s constitutional court on Wednesday upheld a 2015 law that significantly limits the rights of people whose property in Warsaw was seized during or after World War II, and their descendants, to apply for restitution.
The decision effectively removes the ability of former owners who missed a December 1988 deadline, set by the former Communist government, to file claims. And for those who met the deadline — but whose cases have languished, in some cases, for decades — the law sets up hurdles that may be nearly impossible to clear.
“This is a very unjust decision,” said Gideon Taylor, chairman of operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which is based in Jerusalem.

Read the full article here.

Armenia Revolts: Forget Social Protest, This Time It’s Serious
By Grigor Atanesian
Moscow Times, July 27, 2016

That thousands of Yerevan residents should take to the streets, as they have done every day this past week, is no real surprise. It is, after all, the fourth summer in a row that mass protests have gripped the Armenian capital. In 2013, demonstrators protested price hikes for public transportation. In 2014 it was pension reform. In 2015, what started as a protest against higher electricity bills became the so-called “Electric Yerevan” movement that Russian state-controlled media hyperbolically compared to Ukraine’s Maidan.
But this summer’s protest is different — not so much in form, but in character. No longer are the demands social and economic; now the ultimatum is regime change. Yerevan residents are rallying to voice their support for an armed militant group that seized a police station in the Erebuni district on July 17. The militants are demanding the release of all political prisoners and the resignation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. They call themselves “The Sassoon Daredevils” after the title of a medieval Armenian epic about the strongmen of Sassoun — a historic region of Armenia — and their struggle against Arab invaders.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine urges world community to increase pressure on Kremlin to stop escalation in Donbas
Ukrinform, July 26, 2016

Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has appealed to its international partners to step up political and diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin in order to stop dangerous escalation of conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is deeply concerned about the worsening of security situation in the zone of the anti-terrorist operation. The militants backed by the Russian Federation shelled positions held by Ukrainian Armed Forces in 189 episodes during the July 22-24 period," the diplomats have noted.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry demands that the Russian Federation as a participant in the Minsk agreements urgently fulfill its obligations to withdraw its servicemen, mercenaries and weapons from the territory of Donbas, put a stop to unlawful supplies of weapons and military equipment to the militants, resume the work which is conducted by SMM OSCE.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s Deadly Profession: Three Journalists Attacked in July
By Melinda Haring
Atlantic Council, July 27, 2016

On July 20, investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet was assassinated in Kyiv. Sheremet hosted a morning show at Radio Vesti and was a top reporter at Ukrainska Pravda. A crusading journalist and native of Minsk, Belarus, he had already been expelled from both Belarus and Russia. He was killed by a car bomb.
It would be easy to dismiss Sheremet’s murder as an outlier. Unfortunately, it’s anything but. His death is merely the most drastic example of the steady deterioration of press freedom in Ukraine in recent months.
One day before Sheremet’s murder, Maria Rydvan, the editor of Forbes Ukraine, was stabbed three times in Kyiv; she had been walking in the park of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Fortunately her injuries were only minor.
On July 25, the head of Business Censor, Sergei Golovnyova, was beaten in the well-to-do Podil section of Kyiv by two men who took nothing from him.

Read the full article here.

Keeping Bankers’ Hours, European Observers Miss Most of Ukraine War
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, July 27, 2016

As the afternoon shadows grow long, nocturnal creatures begin to stir. A stray cat rises from a nap, stretches and trots off to hunt. Overhead, swallows swoop and screech in the deepening twilight.
Soon, the human inhabitants of this town in eastern Ukraine set about their evening rituals.
Green-clad soldiers strap on their helmets and load their guns, while white-clad European cease-fire observers pocket their notebooks, climb into their cars and drive away. And then the fighting starts.
This improbable routine between soldiers and monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays out nightly, illustrating the glum quagmire of the Ukraine war, now entering its third year.
“I never see them here at night,” said Tatyana Petrova, whose apartment looks over a parking lot that is a frequent listening post for the monitors. “In the evening, I look out and they are gone, and then the concert starts.”


The scars of Ukraine's war in Mariupol
Deutche Welle, July 28, 2016

The war has moved into the suburbs of Mariupol: It sleeps during the day, and rages at night. The demarcation line dividing the separatists from areas more or less controlled by the Ukrainian government is about six kilometers (3.7 miles) outside the city limits.
The war in Donbass has left its mark on the port city. The former police headquarters is covered by a tarp. It hides the fact that the building can no longer be used because so many of its offices have been burnt out.
"Mariupol is Ukraine," is written across the tarp in four languages - Ukrainian, Russian, English and Greek. Mariupol is an ancient Greek commercial settlement, a polis, in which some 20,000 Greeks still live today. The police headquarters was occupied by separatists in the spring of 2014; then fighters from the Ukrainian "Azov" volunteer battalion drove them out.
Yet normalcy did not return with the liberation of Mariupol. Evenings, the city seems strangely deserted, despite high summer temperatures, there are very few people moving about. Only a few motorcyclists hang out in front of a bakery near the city theater - which only advertises Russian-language plays. Taxis drive past, but they pay no attention to the few tourists that attempt to hail them.

Donald Trump's Crimean Gambit
By Krishnadev Calamur
Atlantic, July 27, 2016

Donald Trump’s call on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails Wednesday resulted in widespread criticism. But his comments on Crimea, coupled with ones he made last week on NATO, are likely to have greater significance if he is elected president in November.
The question came from Mareike Aden, a German reporter, who asked him whether a President Trump would recognize Crimea as Russian and lift sanctions on Moscow imposed after its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory. The candidate’s reply: “Yes. We would be looking at that.”
That response is likely to spread much cheer through Russia—already buoyant about the prospect of a Trump victory in November. But it could spread at least an equal amount of dread in the former Soviet republics. In a matter of two weeks, the man who could become the next American president has not only questioned the utility of NATO, thereby repudiating the post-World War II security consensus, he also has seemingly removed whatever fig leaf of protection from Russia the U.S. offered the post-Soviet republics and Moscow’s former allies in the Eastern bloc.

Why Putin’s DNC Hack Will Backfire
By Mark Galeotti
Foreign Policy, July 26, 2016

The hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers and the subsequent leak of embarrassing internal documents appear almost certainly to have been carried out by Russian intelligence agencies, making it the most serious case yet of Kremlin interference in U.S. politics.
That it is a serious interference is clear. The confirmation — long suspected by many in the Bernie Sanders camp — that at least some DNC officials were on Team Hillary over the course of the Democratic primary has divided the party on the verge of its nominating convention and alienated Sanders’s base. If it hasn’t convinced them to back Donald Trump, it’s at least given them second thoughts about voting for Clinton.
The move has also helped cement Russian President Vladimir Putin in the minds of many U.S. observers as not only a strategic mastermind, but also the Trump campaign’s secret weapon. Clinton, the thinking goes, is regarded in Moscow as a classic, hawkish “Russophobe.” (Putin even blamed her for instigating the protests against his alleged rigging of elections in 2011.) Whereas Trump — with his focus on business, his apparent willingness to put realpolitik over moral considerations, his admiration for Putin, and his disdain for institutions like NATO — has thoroughly won over the Kremlin, even spurring some to refer to him as Putin’s “de facto agent.”
Read the full article here.

Putin Reshuffles Regional Leaders Ahead Of Vote; Russian Customs Chief Out
By Tom Balmforth
RFE/RL, July 28, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin has abruptly reshuffled several regional leaders and dismissed the ambassador to Ukraine in a substantial shake-up that also included the removal of the country's longtime customs chief.
Putin replaced four governors and appointed new presidential envoys to three of Russia's sprawling "federal districts," drawing heavily on former top security-services personnel in what analysts saw as a continuation of a push to tighten his grip on power since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev accepted the resignation of Federal Customs Service chief Andrei Belyaninov, a former KGB officer who served alongside Putin in 1980s East Germany and fell under the spotlight when his home was searched as part of a corruption probe on July 26.
Belyaninov was named as a witness in an investigation into the smuggling of high-end alcohol, but photographs of his opulent residence featuring bundles of cash laid out in piles had been leaked to local media, prompting speculation of his imminent dismissal or arrest.

Plan to Settle Two Million Central Asians in Russian Far East Triggers Anger There
By Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia, July 27, 2016

The Russian Ministry for the Development of the Far East says that it is preparing to announce before the end of 2016 a new demographic policy for that region over the next 15 years, one designed to boost the current population of that Chinese border area from six million to eight million.
Igor Romanov, the editor of the Beregrus portal, says that “it is obvious” on the basis of the documents that have been released so far that the ministry intends to meet this target primarily by bringing in immigrants from Central Asia, a development that he and others in the region very much oppose (beregrus.ru/?p=7470).
He says that experts have subjected such ideas to “the harshest criticism” but that the government continues to believe that moving cheap labor resources to the region, which will supposedly “solve” the needs of the raw materials extraction industry there is the best way to proceed.

Read the full article here.

Between Victory and Betrayal: How to Move Ukraine’s Anticorruption Reforms Forward
Carnegie Endowment, July 26, 2016

As part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s ongoingUkraine Reform Monitor project, a team of experts from VoxUkraine, the Reanimation Package of Reforms, Pact, and other civil society organizations convened a workshop in Kyiv to discuss anticorruption reforms. A follow-up workshop was organized in Washington, DC. Both discussions were held under the Chatham House Rule. The following reflects the conclusions drawn by the team.


Average Ukrainians are, if anything, more frustrated with state corruption than they were before the Maidan. Corruption is on more citizens’ radars, and the lack of tangible progress on major corruption cases is a source of popular disenchantment with the post-Maidan leadership. While more Ukrainian officials are now willing to talk frankly about corruption, average citizens readily perceive the disconnect between this high-minded talk and inaction by law enforcement agencies.

The high degree of polarization in Ukrainian politics reinforces foreign and domestic perceptions that the state is hopelessly corrupt. A key potential remedy supported by Ukrainians, according to polls, is for reformers to ensure the continued infusion of new blood into state institutions. Such moves may help reduce the level of polarization and improve the country’s political culture—or better yet, create a new culture altogether.

Statement of Jewish communities and organizations of Ukraine

With this letter, we the representatives of Jewish organizations and communities of Ukraine would like to express our opinion regarding important issues for maintaining inter-ethnic peace and harmony in Ukraine. We respect and accept every people’s and every nation’s right to write its own history. We respect Ukraine’s right to memorialize its own history free of myths and lies. Historically, Ukraine is a common home\ not only for ethnic Ukrainians, but also for dozens of other nationalities and ethnicities, including Jews. Ukraine has been our home for over a thousand years. And it is natural that we are deeply concerned with what is going on in our common home.

Read the full article here.

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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.