Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 25, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia this week. The two leaders discussed a number of issues concerning security in the Middle East, including the growing role of Iran in Syria.  The meeting is Netanyahu's sixth with Putin since September 2015.

The U.S. has rolled out new visa restrictions in Russia, declaring that nonimmigrant visa interviews will only be conducted at the Embassy in Moscow. The U.S. Embassy said the change comes as Russia has demanded the U.S. greatly reduce its in-country diplomatic staff that also works at three consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok. Also this week, the Kremlin formally announced that President Putin is appointing Anatoly Antonov as Ambassador to the United States. He will replace Ambassador Kislyak who concluded his duties a few weeks ago. 

Russia and Poland continue to dispute Russia's role in a new memorial project at the Sobibor concentration camp site. Poland has excluded Russia from a steering committee directed with preserving the site. Russian Jewish groups have protested the exclusion and Israel has voiced its support for Russia's participation.

NCSEJ congratulates Ukraine on its 26th Independence Day, celebrated August 24. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was in Kyiv for the celebration and meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region. Kurt Volker, U.S. special envoy for the conflict, was also present for the meetings. Earlier in the week, Volker met with Putin aide Vladislav Surkov in Minsk to discuss possible conflict resolution strategies.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. August 25, 2017

Netanyahu meets Putin to share secret intel on Iran threat
By Alexander Fulbright
Times of Israel, August 23, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Russia on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and give him top-secret intelligence on Iran’s military expansion in the region.

“Iran is making an accelerated effort to entrench itself militarily in Syria. This poses a danger to Israel, the Middle East and in my opinion the world itself,” the prime minister said, with Putin at his side, at their talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Netanyahu told Putin that while Israel welcomed the ongoing military operations against the Islamic State group, Iran is filling the void in Syria created by the terror group’s defeat.

Read the full article here.

What Israel’s Netanyahu Wants from Moscow

By Seth Frantzman

The Moscow Times, August 22, 2017

With at least eight public visits to the Kremlin in the last five years, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become a frequent guest in Moscow.

Netanyahu’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday over Syria and the Middle East comes within the context of the close relationship that Israel enjoys with Russia.

One of Netanyahu’s key concerns is the recent cease-fire in southern Syria brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan in July. Israel also wants to stress its concerns about Iranian involvement in Syria and Lebanon and Hezbollah’s growing power.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Institutes Visa Restrictions At Its Missions Across Russia, Blames Kremlin Order

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 21, 2017

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow says that "all nonimmigrant visa operations" at U.S. missions across Russia will be suspended as of August 23 due to a Kremlin-imposed cap on staff at U.S. diplomatic facilities.

In an August 21 statement, the embassy said that visa operations will resume "on a greatly reduced scale" on September 1, with nonimmigrant visa interviews conducted "only in Moscow."

Visa operations at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok on the Pacific coast will "remain suspended indefinitely," it said.

Read the full article here.

Kremlin Aide Says Discussed ‘Fresh Ideas’ with U.S. Envoy to End Ukraine Conflict

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 22, 2017

A Kremlin aide has made upbeat remarks after talking with the new U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, saying they discussed "fresh ideas" in a "constructive" meeting.

U.S. envoy Kurt Volker met with Vladislav Surkov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's point man for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, behind closed doors in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on August 21.

"The meeting was useful and constructive," Surkov told Russian reporters afterward. "The two sides proposed fresh ideas and novel approaches" for implementing the February 2015 Minsk agreement.

Read the full article here.

Putin Names EU-Sanctioned Diplomat Antonov Ambassador to U.S.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 21, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed Anatoly Antonov, a veteran diplomat who is under European Union sanctions for his role in Moscow's interference in Ukraine, as ambassador to the United States.

The appointment of Antonov, who has served in both the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, was announced on the Kremlin's website on August 21.

Antonov, 62, has been a staunch public advocate of Russia's assertive foreign policy in recent years, and is seen as a tough negotiator on issues including arms control.

In February 2015, the EU added Antonov to a list of Russians targeted by sanctions over Moscow's takeover of Crimea and backing for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying he was "involved in supporting the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine."

Read the full article here.

America’s neo-Nazis don’t look to Germany for inspiration. They look to Russia.

By Casey Michael

Washington Post, August 22, 2017

America’s white nationalists may bear swastikas, raise Nazi salutes and cheer for the protection of “Blut und Boden” (blood and soil) for all to see. They may say “Heil Trump!” and laud the legacy of American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell.

But for these American white supremacists, it’s not Nazi Germany to which they look.

It’s Russia.

It doesn’t take much to gather white nationalists’ affections for modern Moscow — a regime whose model they want to bring to bear in the United States. For David Duke, who has seen his books sold in the Russian Duma, Moscow remains the “key to white survival.” For Richard Spencer, a founding member of the alt-right’s rogues’ gallery — and someone married to the translator of Alexander Dugin, Russia’s illiberal polemicist extraordinaire — the Kremlin stands as the “most powerful white power in the world.” For Matthew Heimbach, who has said he would like to see the United States fracture on ethnic lines, Vladimir Putin has transformed into the “leader of the free world.”

Read the full article here.

Many Russians aren’t protesting against Putin – they want his help

By Alfred B. Evans, Jr.

Washington Post, August 21, 2017

The widespread Russian protests against corruption, inspired by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, made global headlines earlier this year. The roots of dissatisfaction often are more personal than political, however, as many Russian citizens have been protesting to defend the ownership and use of private property.

What are Russians protesting, and what do they want the government to do? Here’s a rundown.

Read the full article here.

Russian Jews slam Moscow’s exclusion from Holocaust memorial project in Poland

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 20, 2017

A leader of Russian Jews called on Poland to avoid any exclusion of Russia from an international forum that is responsible for preserving for educational purposes the former Nazi death camp of Sobibor.

Mikhael Mirilashvili, the president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, issued the call Sunday, following claims by Russian officials that Poland barred Russian experts from participating in the work of the International Steering Committee on Sobibor, even though the Russians had been invited to do so by non-Polish members of the committee.

“Russia is a key player in memorializing Holocaust victims, and her participation in this project is vital,” said Mirilashvili, whose organization is an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress and represents Jewish communities from Ukraine to New Zealand.

Read the full article here.

Israel supports Russia’s participation in Sobibor memorial project in Poland

TASS Russian News Agency, August 23, 2017

Israel supports Russia’s participation in the memorial project at the site of what was the Nazi death camp Sobibor in Poland, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

"We, including myself never forget the historical role Russia and the Soviet army played in the victory over Nazism," Netanyahu said.

"The Israeli parliament reaffirmed this just recently. As you know very well, Mr. President, this is the reason why I initiated the idea of erecting a special monument in Netanya commemorating the Liberator Soldier, the soldier of the Soviet army. You attended the inauguration of that monument. In that context Israel cannot oppose Russia’s participation in a very important project at the former concentration camp Sobibor."

Read the full article here.

On Birthright, Russians and Ukrainians Bond Over Jewish Identity

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2017

As the war in Donbass that began more than three years ago continues, Russia-Ukraine tensions remain high; but citizens of both countries who are on Birthright Israel tours focus instead on the Jewish heritage that unites them.

Of the 3,100 Russian-speaking Birthright participants who visited Israel this summer, 800 were Ukrainian and 1,800 were Russian.

David Pevzner, 19, is from Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Pevzner studies medicine in Krasnodar, Russia, and is touring Israel as part of a Birthright group for medical students and doctors. The 40 participants are a 50/50 mix of Ukrainians and Russians.

“There is no problem – hakol beseder,” Pevzner tells the The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night, speaking in English but using the Hebrew words to say “everything is okay.”

Read the full article here.

Carpenter: West must get tougher on Russia - and on Ukraine's corruption

By Brian Bonner

Kyiv Post, August 22, 2017

Michael Carpenter, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and a key adviser to ex-U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, hopes that Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Kyiv this week will be in a position to correct some of the Obama administration’s mistakes on Ukraine.

One of the key mistakes, in Carpenter’s opinion, was the refusal of U.S. President Barack Obama to supply Ukraine with modern defensive weapons to help it prevail against the war that Russia launched in 2014 with the takeover of Crimea and invasion of the eastern Donbas.

“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t provide weapons to Ukraine,” Carpenter told the Kyiv Post in an interview ahead of Mattis’ visit to Ukraine. “In effect, it places a de facto arms embargo against Ukraine, just as (the U.S. refusal) after Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008. It sends the wrong message that if you are the victim of Russian aggression, NATO countries will be reluctant to provide you with weapons to defend yourself.”

Read the full article here.

Mattis’s Mission to Reassure Ukraine

By Linda Kinstler

The Atlantic, August 24, 2017

“It's not easy making a democracy,” James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defense, told reporters on Sunday as he prepared to embark on his foreign tour. So far, it has taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, and, today, Ukraine. Today is also the 26th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union; the occasion will be marked with a military parade, and Mattis will be on hand to express continued U.S. support for the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to the Pentagon. Or, as Mattis put it himself, he is visiting Kiev “just to make certain … that they know we're aware of the values and what they're trying to put together coming out of the history they've had in the past,” he said on Monday. “It's not easy making a sovereign state, especially right now with the way Russia has been violating territorial integrity.”

Read the full article here.

Belarus court OKs luxury flats atop former Jewish cemeteries

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 25, 2017

A judge in Belarus approved the construction of apartments atop two former Jewish cemeteries. Separately, unidentified individuals smashed 24 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Ukraine.

Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, in a statement wrote that the incident in Ukraine was discovered Tuesday at the Jewish cemetery of Svaliava in the country’s west. The incident was reported to police, who currently have no suspects.

Earlier this month, a mass grave was discovered during construction near the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Locals initially ignored the find because they assumed the bones belonged to Jews buried in a nearby cemetery, Radio Svoboda reported, but the works were stopped because the bones were thought to be of non-Jews purged by communist authorities.

In a ruling on a motion seeking an injunction against planned construction on the former Jewish cemetery in the eastern city of Gomel, the judge of the Tsentralny District Court in Belarus on Monday stated the court lacks jurisdiction to take any action, clearing the path for the planned construction, Radio Svaboda reported Monday.

Read the full article here.

Azerbaijan-Israeli relations: sincere friendship of peoples and strategic partnership of countries

By Arye Gut

Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2017

Over the last twenty-five years, the relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan have improved critically and drastically. It is historical fact that no country in Eurasia has closer or warmer ties with Israel than Azerbaijan. The relationship between the two countries is particularly surprising because Azerbaijan is a majority- Muslim country.

In the development and strengthening of relations between countries, political and economic interests play a special role. I am more than confident that human relations, a human bridge between the Azerbaijani and Jewish people, play a special and vital role in the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. We can look at the recent history of these relations and actually see the reflection in today's reality.

Relatively few people outside the Azerbaijani or Jewish communities know about the remarkable role that the Jewish community has played in Azerbaijan. The first health minister of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-20 was Jewish, and there were representatives of Jewish groups in parliament. In addition, during the existence of the Republic from 1918 to 1920, Jewish communities published a Caucasian Jewish Bulletin, the Palestine newspaper and a biweekly magazine, Youth of Zion. Moreover, throughout the Soviet period, Jews played a major role in the intellectual, economic and political life of Azerbaijan.

Read the full article here.

Vandals scrawl anti-Israel graffiti on Bulgarian Jewish monument

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 21, 2017

A monument put up by Jews in Bulgaria to thank the town of Vidin for preventing the deportation of its Jews during the Holocaust was vandalized.

The Thanksgiving Monument, erected in 2003, was spray-painted with the words “Allah,” “Palestine,” “Hamas,” and the Islamic star and crescent moon symbol, the Shalom Organization of Jewish in Bulgaria said in a Facebook post Monday.

The organization posted photos of the vandalism, which occurred Saturday, on its Facebook page.

Read the full article here.

Moldova’s civil society braces for another attack

By Mihai Popsoi

Open Democracy, August 22, 2017

Alongside Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova has one of the most liberal and vibrant civil societies in the post-Soviet space. Just remember the so-called “Twitter Revolution” in April 2009. The revolution, which spelt the beginning of the end for Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party, indicated the strength and capacity for mobilisation of Moldova’s civil society groups. But almost a decade later, the country’s non-governmental sector finds itself under increasing pressure from the government.

Much like Moldova’s Communist Party did during the 2000s, the country’s current ruling establishment, first and foremost the Democratic Party, coopts the church, divides trade unions and de-legitimises prominent civil society leaders by labeling them agents of the opposition. Things took a turn for the worse in June, when the Ministry of Justice proposed adding several controversial provisions to a draft law on non-commercial organisations. These proposed amendments contain stronger regulations that would restrict the right to freedom of association and the independence of non-governmental organisations. 

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.