Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 17, 2017

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

On Monday, a bipartisan group of 167 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump, urging him to prioritize the reappointment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the U.S. Department of State. Recent reports have suggested the Trump Administration has considered eliminating the Special Envoy position. NCSEJ was one of a number of Jewish organizations that strongly backed this letter. Two weeks ago I co-authored an op-ed with B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice-President Dan Mariaschin on FoxNews.com on this same subject, which you can read here

Dozens of protesters were detained across Belarus on March 15 in the latest of a series of demonstrations against a tax on the unemployed. Over 2,000 demonstrators marched in the capital, Minsk, to protest President Lukashenka’s tax on “social parasites,” and protests in other cities drew hundreds. The protests have continued despite Lukashenka’s March 9 announcement that collection of the tax would be suspended until 2018.

On Thursday, in the Latvian capital Riga, hundreds of people took part in an annual march of former Waffen SS members who fought alongside Nazi Germany during World War II. Among the marchers were several Latvian lawmakers. The march was allowed by the Riga municipality, despite continued criticism by international organizations, including NCSEJ. 

In the first visit of a President of Bosnia & Herzegovina to Israel, on Tuesday Bosnian President Mladen Ivanic said his country will likely not compensate Jewish communities or individuals for property confiscated during the Holocaust. Ivanic said Bosnia had formulated a compensation law, but because properties had been privatized or buildings destroyed, the situation was too complicated to adjudicate. NCSEJ is disappointed in the President’s remarks, as many other countries in the region are working to implement successful restitution regimes, bringing justice to individuals and helping to sustain Jewish communities. 

Hungary’s right-wing populist prime minister Viktor Orban has called on European nationalist leaders to stage a “peaceful and orderly” revolt against an “unholy alliance of Brussels bureaucrats, the liberal world media and insatiable international capitalists.” Orban’s words hark back to dangerous anti-Semitic canards about Jewish control of the media and financial institutions. Next year, Orban’s Fidesz party will face elections after two consecutive terms in office.

In New York last week, the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) and the Center for Jewish History (CJH) co-hosted a daylong Festival of Contemporary Russian Jewish American Culture. Genesis Philanthropy Group President and CEO Ilia Salita, whose organization co-sponsored the event, called the festival an opportunity to showcase how young Russian Jews who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s have driven American literature and art. 

Earlier this month NCSEJ mourned the passing of former Congressman Tony Beilenson, a great supporter of NCSEJ. Congressman Beilenson ably represented Los Angeles at the state and national level for nearly 35 years, and his wife Dolores was a co-chair of Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry. Together, they forged an indomitable team that helped open the doors of emigration for Soviet Jews. He is survived by Dolores, their children, and grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 17, 2017

Bulgarian church nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for saving Jews
By Tamara Zieve
Jerusalem Post, March 13, 2017

Bulgarian-Israeli lawyer Moshe Aloni is seeking support for a campaign to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Bulgarian Independent Orthodox Church, for protecting the country's Jewish minority during the Holocaust.

Aloni, head of the Committee for Friendship between the Israeli and Bulgarian Advocates, nominated the church in January for its "brave acts of heroism" including voting unanimously to condemn antisemitic laws during World War II and for going against planned deportation of the country's 48,000 Jews to Nazi death camps in Europe.

Russian Sauna Slogan Says ‘Auschwitz Ain’t Got Nothin on Us’
Moscow Times, March 13, 2017

“Auschwitz ain’t got nothin on us.” That was the short-lived slogan of a Russian sauna in Novosibirsk, whose owner claims he didn’t really pay attention to the connection to the infamous concentration camp.

“I ordered the website three months ago and nobody cared about the slogan, but today journalists have been calling me all day long,” Vyacheslav Boyev told the news site Takie Dela. “A programmer, a young guy, suggested the analogy that our banya is so warm and hot that ‘Auschwitz ain’t got nothin on us.’ I said okay, without thinking about it.”

Read the full aricle here.

Rabbi Vyshedski: almost a third of Jews have moved from Donbas to Israel since 2014
RISU, March 15, 2017

Eight thousand Jews of Donbas out of thirty have moved to permanent residence in Israel since 2014. This was reported on Radio "Donbas.Realiyi" by Chief Rabbi of Donbass and a community of IDPs Pinchas Vyshedski.

According to him, a more elderly part of the Jewish community remained in the occupied territories through health difficulties and reluctance to leave their homes.

Belarusian Jews celebrate Purim
BELTA, March 13, 2017

On 11 and 12 March, Belarusian Jews celebrated Purim. The holiday commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire more than 2,400 years ago.

In synagogues, Purim is celebrated by public recitations of the Scroll of Esther telling the history of the holiday. During the reading, a vizier Haman is the worst enemy of all Jews. Every time his name is read out loud, the audience whistle, make noise, stamp their feet, and use a special noisy ratchet.

Read the full article here.

Romania's small Jewish community celebrates Purim
AP, March 14, 2017

Romanian children put on costumes to join aging members of the country's small Jewish community for a Purim holiday service to celebrate the biblical account of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia.

Some girls dressed up as princesses, fitting for an annual holiday in which one of the heroes is a clever and beautiful queen. One boy came as Spiderman. Other youngsters wore bright hats and vivid ties to mark the occasion.

Controversial procession of Latvian Waffen SS veterans in Riga
WJC, March 16, 2017

In the Latvian capital Riga, hundreds of people took part in a march of former Waffen SS members who had fought alongside Nazi Germany during World War II. The march was allowed by Riga municipality despite protests.

The participants held Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian flags and flowers. Among the marchers were several Latvian lawmakers.

Read the full article here.

Russian Tourism to Israel Up 54%
Jewish Press, March 17, 2017

In January 2017, the flow of tourists from Russia to Israel reached 19,600, 23% more than the same period last year. And in February, 20,900 Russian tourists arrived, a whopping 54% increase over the same month last year, according to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

Read the full article here.

Bosnian president: Don't expect compensation for Jewish property
By Greer Fay Cashman
Jerusalem Post, March 14, 2017

There is little likelihood that Bosnia will pay out compensation for community and private Jewish property confiscated during the Holocaust, Mladen Ivanic, the chairman of the rotating presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, told members of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday.

Read the full article here.

European rabbis: EU court’s ruling on religious garb means Jews, Muslims unwelcome
JTA, March 14, 2017

A European Union court ruled that companies can prohibit their employees from wearing religious clothing and symbols, sparking condemnation from a rabbinical group that the decision amounts to saying “faith communities are no longer welcome.”

The ruling, which came amid a rise in the popularity of anti-Muslim politicians in Europe over the proliferation of jihadist attacks on the continent and ethnic and religious tensions, was on two lawsuits filed by Muslim employees who were sanctioned for wearing religious symbols or prohibited from doing so.

Read the full article here.

East Ukraine Jewish Community Faces Daily Artillery ‘Orchestra’ Once Again
By Dovid Margolin
eJewishPhilanthropy, March 17, 2017

They hear Grad missiles when they walk to synagogue on Shabbat, at a Torah class, during a youth club meeting. At night, when they put their children to bed, tucking them in and saying everything will be alright, they hear heavy artillery then, too. For the Jewish community and general populace of Mariupol – a city in southeastern Ukraine that saw heavy fighting in the early days of the country’s war, but which has seen relative quiet in the last two years – what they darkly call the artillery “orchestra” has returned in the last two weeks, as has heavy fighting and increased casualties all along the frontlines that stretch through eastern Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

EU extends Russia sanctions over Ukraine for 6 more months
AP, March 13, 2017

The European Union has extended for six months sanctions against 150 Russia-linked people over the territorial disputes in eastern Ukraine. The EU said in a statement Monday that the asset freezes and travel bans for those concerned were extended because the situation on the ground had not changed.

Read the full article here.

Poroshenko Proposes Bill To Ban Dual Citizenship In Ukraine
RFE/RL, March 14, 2017

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed a bill that would ban dual citizenship. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, said on March 14 that the amendments to the law on citizenship proposed on March 13 were sent to the parliamentary Committee for Human Rights, Ethnic Minorities, and Interethnic Relations for discussion.

Ukraine bans all trade with rebel-held territory, as separatists seize assets
By Pavel Polityuk and Alexei Kalmykov
Reuters, March 15, 2017

Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday halted all cargo traffic with rebel-held territory in the east of the country, formalizing an existing rail blockade by Ukrainian activists that has fueled the worst political crisis in nearly a year.

In a standoff that is hurting the economies of both sides, separatists have seized control of strategic Ukraine-registered industries in their territory in response to the rail blockade, which has cut off coal and steel shipments since late January.

Read the full article here.
OSCE extends monitoring mission to Ukraine by one year
Reuters, March 16, 2017

European security watchdog OSCE on Thursday prolonged its monitoring mission to Ukraine by one year until March 2018.

Three years after Moscow annexed the Crimean region, tensions between Ukraine and separatists in the Russian-held area are still high and a 2015 ceasefire agreement is violated regularly.

Read the full article here.
Ukraine Imposes Sanctions On Five Russian Banks
RFE/RL, March 16, 2017

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has imposed sanctions on five banks with Russian capital functioning in Ukraine. A statement on the presidential website on March 16 said that Poroshenko signed a decree introducing sanctions on Sberbank, VS Bank, Prominvestbank, VTB Bank, and BM Bank for a one-year period.

Read the full article here.
Ukraine to receive 600 million euros in EU aid, Commission says
Reuters, March 16, 2017

The European Commission agreed on Thursday to send Ukraine 600 million euros ($643.20 million) to help its finances, ending months of delays over EU conditions linked to the loan.

With Ukraine facing its third year of a separatist war, the EU executive softened demands that Kiev first lift a ban on Ukrainian wood exports, saying the money could now be sent because the government had submitted a bill to change policy.

Read the full article here.
Putin allows breakaway Georgian region's troops to join Russian army: RIA
Reuters, March 14, 2017

President Vladimir Putin has approved a decree allowing some troops from Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia to be incorporated into the Russian army, the RIA news agency reported on Tuesday.

Russia recognized South Ossetia as an independent state in 2008 after fighting a short war with Georgia. Georgia says it wants South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region, back.

Read the full article here.
Dozens Detained In Belarus Amid Fresh Protests Against Tax On Jobless
RFE/RL, March 15, 2017

Dozens of protesters were detained across Belarus on March 15 in the latest of a series of demonstrations against a tax on the unemployed in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, activists and rights groups said.

More than 2,000 demonstrators marched in the capital, Minsk, to protest what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka describes as a tax on "social parasites," while protests in other cities drew hundreds of people.

Read the full article here.
Hungary's Orban makes rallying call to European nationalists
By Marton Dunai
Reuters, March 15, 2017

Hungary's right-wing populist prime minister Viktor Orban called on European nationalist leaders on Wednesday to revolt against an "unholy alliance of Brussels bureaucrats, the liberal world media and insatiable international capitalists".

The European Union is facing a period of upheaval following Britain's vote to leave the 28-member bloc, with nationalist parties poised to gain support in Dutch and French elections.

Read the full article here.
What are they thinking?
By Ed Wight
Dailymail.co.uk, March 14, 2017

Tasteless tourists who post pictures of themselves breakdancing, doing handstands and even performing ballet at a holocaust memorial site where 10,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered by the Nazis in one day are being shamed online.

The shocking images were taken in front of the mass murder memorial at Ninth Fort in Kaunas, where 9,200 children and their parents were slaughtered on October 29, 1941.

Read the full article here.
NY festival celebrates Russian Jewish immigrants as the ‘drivers’ of American culture
By Cathryn J. Price
Times of Israel, March 15, 2017

At the time it seemed like a simple enough idea. Photographers Alina and Jeff Bliumis set up shop on the boardwalk of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, a Russian-Jewish enclave. As people walked by they were asked if they’d like to stop for a photo. If they said yes, they were asked to stand under one of three signs they felt most clearly identified them: Russian, American or Jewish.

Read the full article here.
In Jewski, Canadian-Russian-Jewish students find home — and swag — for their triple identities
By Dana Wachter
Times of Israel, March 13, 2017

Twenty-year-old York University student Daniel Goldshtein has finally found and become a part of a community that embodies his entire identity as an Israeli-born, Russian-Jewish Canadian.

It’s a unique combination, but not quite as unique as he thought. The greater Toronto area has at least 50,000 Russian-speaking Jews, as estimated by United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of Greater Toronto.

Read the full article here.
Where Would Russia's Jews Go?
By Konstanty Gebert
Mosaic, March 13, 2017

The situation for Jews in Russia is far from ideal. But where is it ideal? Maxim Shrayer’s perceptive, moving, and funny essay, “The Prospect for Russia’s Jews,” puts me in mind of a joke that was fresh when the world was still young and that I’ll render here in an updated version.

Read the full article here.
Russia’s Exceptional Diaspora
By Vladislav L. Inozemtsev
Kennan Institute, March 14, 2017

I was reminded of a striking difference between Russia and Israel when I walked past a Washington synagogue this winter. A handwritten poster hung beside the door: “We help Israel!”

Russia’s diaspora is also vast, but when it comes to giving back, it’s a vastly different story. According to statistics provided by the Bank for International Settlements, which permanently keeps track of remittances from (and within) different countries, Russia is mentioned only as a donor country—which means that incoming remittances do not exceed $500 million a year.

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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.