Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 2, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

Happy and healthy Passover!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. April 2, 2021

Russia creates pressure in ceasefire talks, says Ukraine leade
The Jerusalem Post via Reuters | April 1, 2021

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that an escalation of tensions in Ukraine's eastern regions showed Russia was seeking to create a threatening atmosphere for ceasefire talks.

"Playing with muscles in the form of military exercises and possible provocations along the border is a traditional Russian affair," Zelenskiy said in a Telegram messenger.

"In this way, it (Russia) seeks to create an atmosphere of threat and, at the same time, of pressure during the ceasefire negotiations and for peace as our value."

US expresses concern about rising Russian-Ukrainian tensions
Robert Burns
The Washington Post via The AP | March 31, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday expressed concern about what it called escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made calls to his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts.

Blinken expressed the administration’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the State Department said.

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. government was aware of reports from the Ukrainian military of Russian troop movements on the eastern border, but he offered no details.

Kirby said the Russian escalations include violations of a July 2020 ceasefire, brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern part of the country on March 26 and the wounding of two others. The Ukrainian military said the four were killed in a mortar attack it blamed on Russian troops. Russia denies having a military presence in the region. The State Department said Blinken expressed condolences for the losses.

The OSCE’s civilian Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported hundreds of ceasefire violations in recent days, including 493 on March 26 in the Donetsk region, mostly small-arms fire.

“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation in tensions that had been achieved through an OSCE-brokered agreement back in July of last year,” Kirby said. ~“Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders.”

Sanctioning debt will hurt
Maximilian Hess

Riddle.io | April 1, 2021

Sanctions targeting Russian sovereign debt are once again on the table. The specter of such a move in a piece of 2018 US legislation saw it dubbed ‘the bill from hell.’ Yet today, most analysts seem to view it as something with a lot less menace.

Author and JP Morgan strategist Ruchir Sharma recently made such an argument in the Financial Times and no less an authority than Vladislav Inozemtsev recently argued for Riddle that even “a total ban on transactions involving the Russian foreign debt and the extension of that ban to the U.S. allies will only result in serious losses for the Western financial institutions following the sell-out of this type of asset” while “the Russian authorities will restructure their liabilities, making considerable savings on debt servicing.”

They are not the only ones making such an argument. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov agreed, when he told the Duma’s Financial Market Committee this March that such a move would be merely “unpleasant” this month, reassuring the committee that a solution “will of course be found.”

Sharma noted that since the introduction of the West’s first debt financing sanctions via then-president Obama’s sectoral sanctions in 2014, “Putin has become a model of orthodoxy,” referring to the much–lauded management of macro-economic stability under Central Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina.

They are correct that from a macro-economic standpoint, Russia can well afford to halt borrowing from US, and even wider Western, capital markets. Russia’s international reserves have exceeded its foreign debts since at least January 2019. Though it did record a budget deficit in 2020, it could have plugged this with its reserves rather than borrowing, had it so desired. With oil prices having risen notably in recent months, and analysts’ forecasts holding that they will remain strong for some time to come as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the timing is arguably ideal from Moscow’s point of view for it to withstand such sanctions.

Kremlin says military movements near Ukraine are defensive, pose no threa
Reuters | April 1, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Thursday that recent Russian troop and military hardware movements near Russia’s borders with Ukraine were aimed at ensuring Moscow’s own security and were not a threat to anyone.

Ukraine’s commander-in-chief this week accused Moscow of building up forces near their shared border and said that pro-Russian separatists were systematically violating a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine amid rising tensions.

On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Moscow moved its troops around Russia as it saw fit.

Jews in the former Soviet Union eat pounds of matzah per person — the most in the world — every year. Here’s why.
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 26, 2021

(JTA) — When it comes to consuming matzah, the Jews of the former Soviet Union are in a league of their own.

At the top of the chart are Azerbaijan’s 8,000 Jews, who this year are expected to consume 10 tons of the unleavened bread cracker that Jews eat on the week of Passover to commemorate their ancestors’ hurried flight out of Egypt.

That’s a provision of 2.7 pounds per person – a ratio that’s nearly three times what’s on stock for the average soldier in the Israeli army.

In Russia, home to about 155,000 Jews, the rate of consumption is somewhat lower than in Azerbaijan, about 2.4 pounds per person. The ratio in the similarly sized Ukrainian Jewish community drops to about a pound of matzah per person, but that’s still higher than the average per Israeli soldier.

“There’s a special emotional attachment to matzah here that you don’t find elsewhere because for decades under the anti-Semitic persecution of the communist years, Passover was probably the safest way to stay connected to Judaism,” Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, who was born in Italy, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Why we honour the martyred Soviet Jews
Alex Ryvchin
The Australian Jewish News | April 1, 2021

IN The Jews of Silence, Elie Wiesel writes that there is only one reason why a Jew travels to Kiev. That is to see Babi Yar. So it was for me when a few years ago, I returned to Kiev, 30 years after my family had surrendered their Soviet passports, became stateless, emerged through the gauntlet of abuse and ritual humiliation that applying to abandon the Soviet Union entailed, and quit that place forever.

The material aggregate of centuries of family history there was a few canvas bags crammed with photo albums and the necessities that my parents and grandparents assumed could not be obtained outside the Soviet sphere, ceramic containers adorned with little moles and hedgehogs, and a couple of Zenit wristwatches that my family thought could be pawned if circumstances necessitated.

When I landed back in Kiev, after successfully making it through passport control without being denounced as a rootless cosmopolitan or a Zionist agitator (the clerk was in fact genial bordering on flirtatious), I felt a great anxiety to get to Babi Yar immediately as if to see a frail relative for whom time was limited. Kiev is a glorious city, particularly in late September when I arrived. The weather is still mild, the air is sharp and filled with the smell of chestnuts that leaves you heady, and the sites are powerful and evocative. But none of this interested me. Not even the black caviar in the Bessarabian Market or the statue of Bulgakov and the debauched feline from The Master and Margarita at his feet. All I wanted was to be at the killing field known as Babi Yar.

No Emotions or Illusions: The Future of U.S.-Russian Relations
Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Moscow Center | March 30, 2021

Following U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent comment indicating that he considers his Russian counterpart a killer, Russia recalled its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, back to Moscow for consultations: an unprecedented step in the history of Russian-American relations. But even before this, bilateral relations were in need of a reassessment, one free of the emotions and illusions stirred up by the presidential clash.

Emotions compel Russia to escalate the confrontation with the United States, or even turn the fight against U.S. global domination into the central idea of Russia’s foreign—and to some extent domestic—policy. This positioning harks back to Cold War-era Soviet policy, but it’s not practicable with Moscow’s current shortage of resources.

Furthermore, overextension in foreign policy was one of the factors that led the Soviet Union into crisis in the 1980s. Letting off emotional steam through rhetoric—which is what we are seeing for now—is less dangerous, of course, but also entirely unproductive.

Artist, red hair inside
Basia Monka
The Jerusalem Post | April 1, 2021

 When 12-year-old Frania (later Shulamit) was stepping off the ship from Poland after the two-week journey with her Aunt Leosia, her mother’s sister, and Uncle David Hofnung, she did not know what life would bring her in that January in 1950. She only knew there were oranges in Palestine (as they still called the fledgling State of Israel) and that she would live with her other uncle, her mother’s brother, on a kibbutz. 

She heard that a kibbutz was like a poor village. It did not promise a joyful future. But it was what it was, and after the already complex and difficult past she’d had, she was open to the new experiences.
Russian Espionage Scandal in Bulgaria
Margarita Assenova
The Jamestown Foundation | March 31, 2021

On the eve of a critical parliamentary election on April 4, the Bulgarian authorities have exposed a major case of espionage on behalf of Russia, which entangles several high-ranking defense ministry officials. Six Bulgarian citizens, including three active defense ministry personnel, were arrested on March 18 and charged with espionage for obtaining classified information on Bulgaria, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union and providing it to Russian embassy officials in Sofia. On March 19,

Bulgaria’s Prosecutor General publicly announced the charges and disclosed surveillance details, including phone calls and videotapes (Mediapool.bg, March 19). Sofia subsequently expelled two Russian diplomats for involvement in espionage against Bulgaria (Duma.bg, March 22). Bulgarian National Television reported the Russian diplomats are Maxim Ribkin, first secretary in the Russian embassy, and Alexander Zinkin, the second secretary (Balkan Insight, March 22).

Russia’s intelligence operations in Bulgaria have markedly intensified since the government in Sofia decided to upgrade the country’s Air Force with F-16 fighter jets procured from the United States and gradually retire most of its Soviet-era aircraft. In July 2019, the Bulgarian parliament ratified the agreement with US defense company Lockheed Martin for the purchase of eight F-16s, with the option to buy eight more aircraft later (Investor.bg, July 10, 2019). Although Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, known for his Russia-friendly stance, vetoed the law, the parliament eventually overturned him (Investor.bg, July 30, 2019).

Antisemitism scandal in Romania as Jewish actor Maia Morgenstern receives death threat
Paula Erizanu
The Calvert Journal | March 31, 2021

Romanian actor and head of the Jewish State Theatre in Bucharest, Maia Morgenstern, has received a death threat and antisemitic abuse in a scandal that has caused national and international outrage.

On 27 March, the actor, whose most famous role is Mary in Mel Gibson’s 2004 Passions of Christ, posted screenshots of an email she received on several addresses at the Jewish State Theatre, which included death threats to Morgenstern and other actors, and explicit references to the Holocaust. “I intend to throw her into a gas chamber,” the letter said. The post later disappeared from Morgenstern’s Facebook wall.

Two days later, following outrage and messages of solidarity from cultural and political figures, Romanian prosecutors announced that the police had arrested the sender of the message. In the signature, the 25-year-old culprit wrote that the letter came from AUR, Romania’s young nationalist party, which has gained nine per cent of votes in recent parliamentary elections last December. The head of the party, George Simion, however, dissociated from the letter, saying it was “a degrading anti-semitic attack”.

In response to the letter, the Jewish State Theatre streamed their performance A Lesson of Good Manners online for free on 30 March.

The Theatre Union in Romania expressed their solidarity with Morgenstern and the Jewish State Theatre, saying “any form of racism is intolerable” and that the message “cannot remain without penal consequences on its author”.

“As writers who know what the force of words mean, we condemn the horrific threat sent to the great actor,” PEN Romania wrote. “The eras of ideological barbarism of the previous century started with such criminal constructions of words that stigmatised races and classes,” they added.

The letter came days after someone told Morgenstern an antisemitic “joke” just before an official event at the city hall, on 18 March. “No one seemed bothered,” the actor wrote. “I can’t accept this. It is grave. It is ugly. I am hurt.”