Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. February 19, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

This week the Holocaust memorial in Yerevan, Armenia was vandalized with blood-colored paint sprayed along the Hebrew obelisk of the monument. The text “To Live and Not Forget: To the Memory of the Victims of the Genocides of the Armenian and Jewish Peoples” is written in Armenian on the right pillar and Hebrew on the left pillar.

The Jewish community of Armenia called on the government to investigate and punish the perpetrators.

The mayor of Yerevan condemned the incident, saying that “The desecration of any memorial is extremely unacceptable, moreover the kind of memorials which are related to the minorities living in the city," 

A 36-year-old man turned himself in to authorities and confessed to committing the vandalism.  A criminal case has been initiated under the Armenian Criminal Code.

NCSEJ issued a statement earlier this week commending the Bulgarian Government for Banning Lukov March.  Held annually since 2003 in Sofia, the march attracted thousands of nazi sympathizers and extremists from all over Europe, until the government banned the march in February 2020. We appreciate the Bulgarian government's continued strong stand against anti-Semitism and extremism in their country.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. February 19, 2021

NCSEJ Commends Bulgarian Government for Banning Lukov March
NCSEJ Press Release | February 15, 2021

 NCSEJ commends the Bulgarian government for preventing the neo-nazi Lukov march from taking place on February 13 in Sofia.

The Lukov March, an event attracting thousands of extremists from in and outside of Bulgaria, had been held annually since 2003 in Sofia until the government banned the march in February 2020.  

The event is in honor of Bulgarian general, politician, and Minister of War Hristo Lukov who supported Nazi Germany during World War II as leader of the Bulgarian National Legions.  He was responsible for the 1935 Bulgarian law that stripped Jews of their civil rights.

Scheduled to be held this year on February 13, the event was once again subject to a banning order by Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova.

We are grateful to the Bulgarian government, in particular Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva, Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev, Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev, Sofia Mayor Fandukova, and other government officials who put an end to this annual display of anti-Semitism and hate.   

"This decision, once again, sends a strong message that anti-Semitism and extremism will not be tolerated in Bulgaria. We join the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria SHALOM in thanking the Bulgarian authorities for canceling the Lukov march of hate." NCSEJ Chairman Jim Schiller said.

Holocaust memorial in Yerevan, Armenia vandalized
JPost Staff
The Jerusalem Post | February 12, 2021

The "To Live and Not Forget" Holocaust memorial in the Armenian city of Yerevan was desecrated with paint sprayed all over the Hebrew writings.

The memorial was built to honor both the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide victims and consists of two primary pillars, with “To Live and Not Forget: To the Memory of the Victims of the Genocides of the Armenian and Jewish Peoples” written in Armenian on the right pillar and Hebrew on the left pillar.

Yerevan Mayor Hayk Marutyan’s spokesperson Hakob Karapetyan strongly condemned the desecration, noting that such incidents must be ruled out in Yerevan “where representatives of various nations are living side by side as Yerevantsis.”

“The desecration of any memorial is extremely unacceptable, moreover the kind of memorials which are related to the minorities living in the city. I think this problem should be solved through cooperation with the law enforcement agencies,” Karapetyan said when asked about actions for ruling out similar incidents in the future, given the fact that this is already the second time this particular memorial is targeted by vandals in the last few months, the Armenian Press website reported. 

In extraordinary tribute, George Shultz hailed by Jewish leaders for helping free Soviet Jews
Larry Luxner
JTA | February 18, 2021

TEL AVIV — On Feb. 11, 1986, Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky — freed after enduring nine years in Russian prisons on false charges of treason and espionage — stepped off a jet that had carried him straight from Germany and out into the Israeli sunshine.

“It was a very dramatic day, starting in a Soviet prison, then meeting my wife in Berlin after 12 years, then finishing at Ben Gurion Airport, and finally visiting the Kotel” in Jerusalem, said Sharansky, recalling the events of 35 years ago as if they were part of a John LeCarré spy thriller. “I was so overwhelmed, I thought maybe it was all a dream.”

While still on the tarmac at Ben Gurion, then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres immediately put Sharansky on the phone with President Ronald Reagan, and then with the secretary of state at the time, George Shultz.

“Why, I thought, wasn’t a conversation with President Reagan enough?” Sharansky quipped. “But Shultz was very helpful to us — how helpful I found out later.”

ADL singles out Poland, Hungary, Russia and British Labour Party in Europe anti-Semitism report
Cnaan Liphshiz 
JTA | February 18, 2021

(JTA) — Authorities in Poland, Russia, Hungary and some lawmakers in Britain’s Labour Party used anti-Semitism for political means, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-Semitism report on Europe published Thursday.

In Poland, presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski was the target of “antisemitic rhetoric” this summer during an election in which he lost to the incumbent Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice party, ADL wrote in the report titled “Choosing Antisemitism: Instrumentalization and Tolerance of Antisemitism in Contemporary European Politics.”

The report noted that Law and Justice’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said in a television interview that Trzaskowski is “without a Polish soul, a Polish heart and a Polish mind” for allegedly agreeing to review restitution claims for Jewish property lost during or after the Holocaust. Trzaskowski is not Jewish.

The report did not call the remark specifically anti-Semitic.

Lukashenka Says He Will Not Ask For Money At Talks With Putin
Radio Free Europe | February 18, 2021

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he does not plan to ask for money from Russia when he holds talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin on February 22.
Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov on February 18 confirmed the meeting of the two leaders, saying he expects a "quite extensive" discussion on issues ranging from bilateral relations to international issues.\

One thing that won't be on the agenda, Lukashenka said at a meeting with the State Secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union state, Grigory Rapota, is a request from Minsk for money.

"As is usually the case in Russia, some [people may] highjack the agenda and [say] Lukashenka is on his way to ask for $3 billion [from Russia]. No, I am not traveling there to ask for anything," Lukashenka said, adding that there were no outstanding issues between the two countries.

In recent years, Russia has pressured Belarus through energy price increases, which many considered a lever to push Minsk to complete a 20-year-old agreement to form a union state.

EU to impose sanctions on Russians over Navalny by March summit, diplomats sa
Reuters | February 10, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is set to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, possibly in the run-up to an EU summit, after a meeting of envoys gave approval for punitive measures, diplomats said.
Alexei Navalny was flown to Germany last summer after being poisoned in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a military-grade nerve agent.

Reuters reported on Feb. 11 that the sanctions, in response to the jailing of Putin’s main domestic critic Alexei Navalny, could be the first to be imposed under a new EU framework that was enacted in December and allows the bloc to take measures against human rights violators worldwide.

“I expect additional sanctions to be in place before the EU summit in March,” said a senior EU diplomat, referring to the March 25-26 gathering of the bloc’s 27 leaders in Brussels. EU foreign ministers meet on March 22.

A meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday showed broad support for sanctions, with countries including Sweden, Germany, France, Poland and Baltic countries all calling for the travel bans and asset freezes.

Read the full article here.

Georgia’s prime minister steps down ahead of looming clashes
Giorgi Lomsadze 
Eurasia.org | February 18, 2021

Ahead of a looming, potentially violent crisis, Georgia’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned and said he opposed plans to arrest a leader of the political opposition.

“As I’ve failed to reach a common ground with the team on this, I’ve decided to resign,” Giorgi Gakharia said in a brief February 18 press conference. “I’d like to believe that this step will help deescalate the polarization on the political stage of our nation.”    

Tensions were high following a court decision the day before to remand Nika Melia, the chairman of the country’s largest opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM). That in turn followed a unanimous vote the day before in parliament to strip Melia of his immunity as a lawmaker, clearing the way for his detention.

Melia had been charged with inciting violence during demonstrations that erupted in June 2019, following the controversial appearance of a Russian lawmaker in the Georgian parliament. Melia claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated and refused to pay bail. Following fall 2020 elections that the UNM and other opposition parties claimed were fraudulent, he threw away an electronic monitoring bracelet that he had been ordered to wear until trial.

As his arrest loomed, Melia has been hunkering down in the UNM’s main office. He was joined by key opposition figures, who vowed to physically resist attempts to arrest Melia. Both sides were girding for a clash, as police officers were massing outside the party office, apparently preparing to storm the building.

Gakharia’s resignation has defused the crisis for now. Following his announcement, the Interior Ministry said it was “temporarily postponing” Melia’s arrest.    

Russia and Europe: the Current Impasse and the Way Out
Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Moscow Center | February 18, 2021

Ever since the start of the U.S.-Russian confrontation in 2014, Moscow’s relations with the European Union, though damaged, had been palpably friendlier than with Washington. Despite the Ukraine crisis, top-level dialogue was never really ruptured. The Kremlin fumed over the Europeans’ “deceit and abandonment” of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained about Russian President Vladimir Putin “living in a different world.” Yet the two continued to have frequent phone calls and, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, engaged in a diplomatic effort to resolve the conflict in Donbas. All this contrasted sharply with U.S. President Barack Obama’s calls for Russia’s political isolation. To be sure, Europe imposed its own sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, but there was always a strong lobby within the EU, led by France and supported by business circles in Germany and elsewhere, in favor of an improvement of relations with Russia. That is now changing.   

The All-Belarusian People’s Assembly: A Gathering of Winners?
Grigory Ioffe
The Jamestown Foundation | February 16, 2021

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka delivered a four-hour speech on February 11, 2021, at the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (ABPA), the sixth such gathering since 1996, when Lukashenka skillfully used this extra-constitutional entity to defeat a rebellious parliament. At that time, Lukashenka enjoyed the support of well over half of Belarusians; whereas today, this is not the case, some commentators argue (Carnegie.ru, February 12).
Yet as far as the Belarusian leader’s popularity rating is concerned, the authorities contend it remains high. According to what the government is touting as a representative survey of 9,896 respondents, 66.5 percent of Belarusians trust the president, while 17.2 percent trust the opposition. This is the public opinion survey that Lukashenka himself promoted earlier this month and which was allegedly being run by a trusted foreign polling firm (see EDM, February 9). The firm in question turned out to be the Ukrainian Politics Foundation (headed by Konstantin Bondarenko). It conducted the study in cooperation with Ecoom, a Belarusian pollster directed by Sergei Musienko, a long-time Lukashenka-loyalist. According to the same survey, only 15.4 percent of Belarusians support the opposition’s protest movement (Tut.by, February 10).

Auction House Halts Sale of Historic Burial Registry After Jewish Community in Romania Claims Ownership
Ben Cohen
The Algemeiner | February 17, 2021

A leading New York auction house specializing in rare Judaica has withdrawn from sale a historic document originating from the Jewish community in the Romanian city of Cluj, after learning that the item may have been stolen during the Holocaust.

The auction of the 19th-century-era handwritten memorial register of Jewish burials in Cluj was due to have taken place in New York on Thursday afternoon.

However, auctioneers Kestenbaum & Company canceled the sale following an outcry from Jewish leaders in Cluj.

Daniel Kestenbaum, a director of the company, said that the auction house, which has “specialized in the care of rare Judaic material culture for 25 years,” took the “matter of title to be one of the utmost importance.”“Any item that passes through our hands is subject to detailed investigation in this regard,” Kestenbaum told The Algemeiner in an email on Wednesday afternoon. “Consequently, in respect to recently acquired information, Lot 33 will be withdrawn from our Judaica auction scheduled for Thursday February 18th.”

An open letter from the Jewish community in Cluj — published by the Romanian magazine Baabel — stated that the register had been “illegally appropriated by unidentified persons.”Because the item was stolen, the letter argued,  it “falls under the provisions of the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and the 2009 Declaration of Terezin.”

Signed by 46 states including the US, Romania and Hungary, under whose administration Cluj was during most of WWII, the two treaties provide for the restitution to their rightful owners of goods illegally appropriated by states or their citizens.

“According to the aforementioned peace treaty, they should be returned to the ‘community of survivors’, in this case, the Jewish Community of Cluj,” the letter said.