Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 5, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: James Schiller, Chairman;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

Shabbat Shalom!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 5, 2021

Connie Smukler: A Real-life Hero for the Soviet Jews
Jewish Exponent | February 24, 2021

When Israeli politician and human rights activist Natan Sharansky published “Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People,” a memoir chronicling his years of political imprisonment in Soviet Russia and life after his release, it quickly drew global acclaim.

But his harrowing story also caught local attention when Sharansky named one of his liberators as Philadelphia resident Connie Smukler.

Released last year, Sharansky’s “Never Alone” reads: “[Connie Smukler] and her comrades created an international network of hospitality, hosting the families of prisoners of Zion, who crisscrossed the world … going from home to home, town to town, and country to country, advocating for their loved ones’ freedom.”

A mother and son were sentenced to prison in Russia. Their only offense is believing in God. 
Editorial Board
The Washington Post | February 28, 2021

A POET in Latvia who suffered persecution in the Soviet Union wrote of the experience of being arrested by the secret police. “You feel overcome by a sudden weakness,” wrote Harijs Heislers.

In such a moment you tire as in a lifetime …

It seems a ravine has opened under your feet,

And the ceiling seems to fall on you.

There is suddenly not enough air in the room —

You breathe with an effort.

‘Pride exists to be part of something Jewish’: Russian billionaire to head Moscow museum’s board
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | February 26, 2021

(JTA) — A Russian billionaire who has not served in Jewish community leadership roles has been appointed board chairman of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.
Alexander Klyachin, the owner of Russia’s largest international chain of hotels, began his nonsalaried stint this month at the helm of what is widely considered to be Russian Jewry’s most visible institution, the country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week.

Lazar, the senior emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Russia, said he expected the award-winning museum to benefit significantly from the “business, administrative experience and vision” of the 53-year-old Klyachin, who owns the Azimut hotel chain and is said to be worth $1.6 billion. The museum has 17 board members.

Beyond the practical aspect, Lazar said, “the story here is the pride that exists today to be a part of something Jewish. It wasn’t always so. Some prominent Russian Jews used to be afraid, maybe ashamed, to come out and say ‘I am Jewish.'”

Bulgarian game show host quotes anti-Semitic rantings by chess champion Bobby Fischer
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | February 26, 2021

(JTA) — The host of a popular game show on Bulgarian public TV quoted on air the anti-Semitic rantings of the late chess master Bobby Fischer, then apologized the following day, a day after the broadcasting company’s top official.

On Tuesday, Orlin Goranov of Bulgarian National Television’s “The Last One Wins” posed a question to contestants on “who was the chess player with Jewish roots who nonetheless spoke out harshly against Jews?”

Goranov then read an article published on the white supremacist website

JBCampbellExtremismOnline.com in which the author purported to have interviewed Fischer saying “The Jews don’t like to work. That’s one of the things the Jews didn’t like about Hitler’s concentration camps,” and that “there were no gas chambers. That’s all baloney.”

The authenticity of the quote is unconfirmed but Fischer, a former world champion who died in 2008, had a rich record of making anti-Semitic statements though his mother was Jewish.

In one radio interview in the Philippines, he called Jews a “filthy, lying bastard people” attempting world domination through instrumentalizing the Holocaust, which he called “a money-making invention.”

Goranov apologized on air Wednesday..

Freedom House: Global Decline In Democracy Has 'Accelerated'
Matthew Luxmoore
Radio Free Europe | February 25, 2021

Freedom House says the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, and conflicts across the world contributed to the decline of global freedom in 2020.

In its annual report released on March 3, the Washington-based human rights watchdog said that the number of countries designated "not free" was at its highest level in 15 years.

The country-by-country review said Kyrgyzstan and Belarus were ranked among nations recording the biggest losses in scores for political rights and civil liberties. Meanwhile, North Macedonia ranked among nations recording the biggest gains.

The report downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, including not just authoritarian nations like China, Belarus, and Venezuela but also "troubled democracies" like the United States and India.

The report said that in 2020 "democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny."
"Incumbent leaders increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleaguered activists -- lacking effective international support -- faced heavy jail sentences, torture, or murder in many settings," it said.

Poland does not plan to buy Russian vaccine, says ministe
Reuters | March 4, 2021

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland does not plan to buy Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, the prime minister’s top aide said on Thursday.

“When it comes to the Russian vaccine, we do not plan to buy such a vaccine, but when it comes to the Chinese vaccine, we are analysing this issue ... no decisions have been made on this matter,” Michal Dworczyk told a news conference, without elaborating.

With delays in deliveries hampering vaccination programmes across the EU, Sputnik V has already been approved or is being assessed for approval in three states in the bloc’s eastern wing - Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The European Union’s drugs regulator has begun reviewing the Russian shot for possible approval.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has talked with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping about buying the Chinese COVID-19 shot, his aide told state-run news agency PAP on Monday. However, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Wednesday he did not currently recommend the jab due to a lack of data.

The European Commission said on Thursday that there were no talks under way about buying Sputnik V.

Read the full article here.

One woman’s bomb-filled garden in Nagorno-Karabakh points to lingering perils from war
Jack Losh
The Washington Post | February 26, 2021

KAGHARTSI, Nagorno-Karabakh — After last year's war, 79-year-old Mila Babayan expected to come home without much fuss and resume her quiet life.

Then she looked in her garden. She found 32 unexploded shells from one of the cluster bombs that rights groups and other war monitors say were used in the fighting across Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave at the heart of a decades-long feud between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“One of them had hit a beehive,” she said. “And there was a hole where my garlic grew.”
Babayan’s garden is no isolated case. Thousands of unexploded munitions — cluster bombs, mortar rounds, rockets, shells and other weapons — now dot the region in streets, backyards and homes, said experts in ordnance removal.

While fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh lasted just 44 days, its repercussions will persist for decades.

“It’s shocking to come back, having spent three years clearing land mines here, and see the whole region littered with these items yet again,” said Nick Smart, regional director for the Halo Trust, a Britain-based organization that removes explosive remnants of war.
Russian peacekeepers, deployed under the Moscow-brokered cease-fire, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s rescue services also are involved in ordnance disposal in the enclave, which is largely under pro-Armenian control but within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.

Peace and Reform: Europe’s Role in the Post-Karabakh War Caucasus
Anna Ohanyan
Carnegie Moscow Center | March 3, 2021

Since the Soviet collapse, Europe and Russia have remained unable to construct a common framework for security cooperation. The Kremlin has consistently pushed for grand security bargains to assert its privileged spheres of influence over swathes of the Eurasian landmass. In contrast, Europe’s normative preferences for a market economy and liberal democracy have favored a very different approach, one based on rules and rights, in order to advance security and order in the emergent post-Soviet space.

This contradiction has played out in each “small war” in the post-Soviet space. In the absence of a grand security agreement between Europe and Russia, a preference for “controlled chaos” in those conflicts has emerged as a strategic choice for the Kremlin: Russia’s involvement in various conflicts around its borders has served to stabilize them while falling short of full resolution, endowing the Kremlin with extensive political leverage over these regional hotspots. The most recent forty-four-day Russia-condoned war between Turkey-backed Azerbaijan and Armenian forces, however, revealed the limits of both the Russian and the European approaches to Eurasian security, and exposed Russia’s shortcomings in controlling local actors.

Kyrgyzstan Preparing for Constitutional Reform in Search for Stability
George Voloshin
The Jamestown Foundation | March 4, 2021

On January 11, the leader of Kyrgyzstan’s most recent revolution, Sadyr Zhaparov, won the presidency in what turned out to be a largely uncontested election. He obtained nearly 80 percent of all ballots cast, compared with only 6.74 percent that went to the runner-up, Adakhan Madumarov—the chair of the opposition party Bütün Kırgızstan (“United Kyrgyzstan”). A highly experienced politician, Madumarov had been a member of parliament (MP) from 1995 until his appointment, in April 2005, as deputy prime minister in a post-revolutionary cabinet, following the ouster of the country’s first president, Askar Akayev. He later served as state secretary (2006–2007), speaker of the parliament (2008) and secretary of the Security Council of Kyrgyzstan (2008–2009). Madumarov ran unsuccessfully for president twice before, in 2011 and 2017. He was born in the southern province of Osh, where his nationalist party always enjoyed popular support. Yet it was Zhaparov, a native of the northern and heavily Russian-speaking Issyk-Kul region, who managed to capture the sympathies of the swelling ranks of southerners over the course of his shorter political career (Knews.kg, Vb.kg, Akipress.org, 24.kg, January 10, 11).

Zhaparov first rose to relative prominence nationwide in 2005, when he was elected to the legislature. He was catapulted to the pinnacle of power as a result of last October’s nearly two weeks of turmoil and political crisis in Bishkek. He was made prime minister on October 10 and president ad interim five days later, when then-president Sooronbay Jeenbekov agreed to quit power peacefully. On November 14, Zhaparov officially declared his candidacy for the presidency and stepped down as caretaker head of state while retaining the prime minister’s mandate. However, responsibility for the smooth functioning of the entire cabinet was immediately ceded to Deputy Prime Minister Artyom Novikov. Zhaparov’s interest in the presidency had been instigated by his avowed desire to reshape Kyrgyzstan’s institutional setup by rebalancing the distribution of powers among the branches of government and reforming the party system (Vb.kg, November 14, 2020; Kloop.kg, October 15, 2020; see EDM, October 20, 27, 2020).

Russia is a broker, not a peacemaker between Israel and Syria
Christopher Phillips
The Middle East Eye | March 2, 2021

A series of Russian-mediated deals between Syria and Israel have recently caught the attention of analysts.

In December, Israeli and Syrian security chiefs reportedly met at Russia’s Syrian Khmeimim airbase, while Russian forces this month excavated a Palestinian cemetery in Damascus with the aim of recovering and repatriating the remains of several Israelis.

Also this month, Moscow brokered a deal that saw Damascus return an Israeli civilian in exchange for prisoners held in Israeli jails and, secretly, $1.2m worth of Russia’s coronavirus vaccines. 

For two states technically at war, such regular contacts have been rare, prompting some to speculate that this might mark a more concerted Russian effort to mediate a peace deal. With Israel recently normalising ties with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, could Syria, desperate for an end to international sanctions after a decade of civil war, be next on the list?