Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 16, 2016

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with his wife, Sara, this week. It was PM Netanyahu’s first visit to Azerbaijan since 1997 and the first visit ever by a sitting Israeli Prime Minister to Kazakhstan. Israel and Azerbaijan concluded an arms deal during the visit. While in Kazakhstan, the two leaders discussed economic, medical, and trade cooperation, bilateral investments, and the fight against terrorism. Kazakhstan will sit as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council starting in January 2017. Attached is NCSEJ’s statement on the Prime Minister’s visit.

This week the Conference of Presidents and the Azerbaijan Embassy co-sponsored a Chanukah party in Washington, D.C. Over 200 guests attended including representatives from Jewish organizations, Members of Congress, and ambassadors and diplomats. A number of embassies and their governments were recognized for providing assistance to Israel in combatting last month’s widespread fires.

In Nikolaev, Ukraine, vandals defaced a memorial sign dedicated to Holocaust victims. The memorial sign has been repeatedly desecrated during previous anti-Semitic attacks in September 2012, March, October and December 2013, and June and July of 2014. No one has yet been held responsible for these attacks.

Restitution remains an issue in Poland. According to a new law, property owners and their heirs only have six months since passage of the law to reassert their claims, which will grant them a three month extension to prove those claims. Critics of the law are calling this an “impossible” timetable. The new law does not allow the filing of new claims, and only claims filed by December 1988 are valid. To help those who have previously filed claims in Warsaw, before the end of 1988, the WJRO has launched a new database of properties in Warsaw along with the names of their previous owners.

Also in Warsaw, Polish and Israeli officials have announced the future opening of an innovative museum honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Visitors to the museum will be able to interact with 3D video recordings of the Righteous Among the Nations.

In Russia, opposition activist Alexei Navalny has announced a 2018 presidential bid. The former lawyer made the announcement in an online video statement on Tuesday, presenting a six-point manifesto focused on battling corruption, boosting wages and pensions, and reforming the police and judiciary.

This week, Foreign Policy offered an interesting take on how Lithuania can address both Russia and a new incoming U.S. president.

Once a year we ask for your support. The annual Chanukah Appeal is now under way. I hope we can count on your ongoing commitment to NCSEJ. Please see the attached link to make a donation.


Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. December 16, 2016

Vandalism in Nikolaev
Reported by Ilya Bezruchko, NCSEJ Representative in Kyiv
December 15, 2016

We have learned about another act of vandalism against at the memorial sign to the victims of the Holocaust in Nikolaev (Southern Ukraine). This was announced on the Facebook page of the chairman of the Mykolayiv Jewish community Michael Goldenberg. Vandals desecrated the memorial sign with black paint.

The monument was built by the Jewish community of Nikolaev in December of 2011, later in June of 2013, it was transferred to the municipal ownership of the city.

Earlier, the memorial sign was repeatedly desecrated during a number of anti-Semitic attacks. Acts of vandalism took place in September of 2012, March, October and December of 2013, June and July of 2014. No one was imprisoned for these number of attacks.

Netanyahu set to embark on rare trip to Muslim countries
By Raphael Ahren
Times of Israel, December 12, 2016

In an effort to reach out to moderate Muslim countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated Tuesday morning to take off for a historic two-day visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. He will thus become the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit the region in almost 25 years of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia.

Azerbaijan reveals arms purchases from Israel reach nearly $5b
Times of Israel, December 13, 2016

Azerbaijan’s president today hailed his country’s military cooperation with Israel, revealing that it is buying Israeli defense system to the tune of nearly $5 billion.

Netanyahu, Nazarbaev Discuss Israel-Kazakhstan Ties In Astana
RFE/RL, December 14, 2016

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has held talks with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Astana. The two leaders discussed economic, medical, and trade cooperation, bilateral investments, and the fight against terrorism, Nazarbaev said after the talks on December 14.

PM and Wife Sara Visit Great Synagogue of Astana in Historic Visit
By Hana Levi Julian
Jewish Press, December 14, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara visited the Great Synagogue of Astana, in the capital of Kazakhstan, attending an event together with members of the Jewish community and the local Chabad House.

Read the full article here.

In Central Asia, Netanyahu scores diplomatic home run in Iran’s backyard
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, December 15, 2016

You wouldn’t know it from the front pages of newspapers in Israel, but its prime minister has completed a landmark visit to two of the world’s wealthiest Muslim nations.

Largely eclipsed in the Israeli media by sexual harassment scandals, the Knesset dress code and the impending evacuation of the Amona outpost in the West Bank, Benjamin Netanyahu’s state visit this week to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan nonetheless represents a diplomatic coup against Iran. It also underlines Israel’s ability in recent years to punch holes in the former taboo in the Muslim world on openly embracing the Jewish state, experts on the relevant countries said.
Read the full article here.

Conference of Presidents, Embassy of Azerbaijan Host Chanukah Party for Diverse Group of Diplomats, American Jewish Organizations and Honored Guests Tribute Given to Nations Who Provided Firefighting Aid to Israel
Press Release, December 15, 2016

On December 14, 2016 the Conference of Presidents and the Embassy of Azerbaijan co-hosted nearly two hundred guests who filled the room for a reception in Washington, DC to celebrate the upcoming Chanukah holiday and honor those countries and others that provided crucial firefighting personnel and equipment to assist Israel in battling the devastating fires last month.

Read the full article here.

New Polish Property Restitution Law Slams Door on Jewish Heirs, Expert Says
By Ofer Aderet
Haaretz, December 12, 2016

Despite initial positive reports concerning a new Polish law for restitution payments for Jews who lost property during the Holocaust, the law does not necessarily bear good news. In fact, it might make it just about impossible to restore Jewish property in Warsaw, a Polish real estate expert says.

Read the full article here.

Warsaw museum to offer high-tech posthumous talks with Poles who saved Jews
JTA, December 11, 2016

Polish and Israeli officials announced the future opening of an innovative museum honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.

The museum, which will feature interactive 3D videos of saviors of Jews, is slated to open in 2018 in the center of Warsaw under the auspices of the TSKZ cultural association of Polish Jewry and the commemoration group From the Depths.

New Exhibition Shows Poland Using Jewish Gravestones to Build Walls, Sidewalks, Playgrounds
Jewish Press, December 13, 2016

As numerous signs suggest the current Polish government is attempting to rewrite its role in World War II and the Holocaust, the Florida Holocaust Museum (FHM) announced the North American premiere of a photo exhibition that documents in black and white the lengths that have been taken to wipe out traces of Jewish history and culture in Poland.

Hezbollah denies it promised Russia no attacks on Israel
By Zack Pyzer
Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2016

Hezbollah said on Friday that there is no truth to reports it assured Russia there would be no military response to the alleged Israeli strikes on its forces in Syria on Wednesday, according to a Hezbollah statement read out on its Al-Manar TV station. The terror organization said the reports were an "invention." "These reports are a total lie and fabrication," the statement read.

European Parliament Vote Brings Georgia, Ukraine Closer To Visa-Free EU Travel
By Rikard Jozwiak
RFE/RL, December 15, 2016

A December 15 vote in the European Parliament has brought the goal of visa-free travel to EU Schengen Zone countries one big step closer to reality for citizens of Ukraine and Georgia.

The parliament approved a mechanism that would allow for the suspension of visa-free regimes with Ukraine and Georgia under certain circumstances once they are in place. The vote was 485 to 132, with 21 abstentions.

Read the full article here.

E.U. Reaches Compromise With the Netherlands on Closer Ukraine Ties
New York Times/AP, December 15, 2016

European Union leaders reached a compromise with the Netherlands on Thursday that should allow the bloc to enact an agreement on closer ties with Ukraine, regarded as a landmark deal to counter the influence of Russia.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands said on Thursday that he now had the necessary guarantees to start pushing the agreement through his country’s Parliament and to overcome the objections of Dutch voters, who voted against the agreement in a referendum in April.

Canada's House of Commons votes unanimously for free trade with Ukraine
Ukraine Today, December 14, 2016

The House of Commons, a lower house of Canadian parliament, has voted unanimously in favour of ratification of Canada-Ukraine free trade zone deal, the UNIAN agency reports.

Trump nominates David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, where he will ‘work from Jerusalem’
By Ron Kampeas
JTA, December 16, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump is nominating a top Jewish surrogate, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel, with a statement saying Friedman will serve from Jerusalem and describing the city as “Israel’s eternal capital.”

Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has for years worked for Trump and his real estate development business, was with Jason Greenblatt, another Trump lawyer, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, one of his main emissaries to the Jewish community. Friedman this week briefed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on what to expect from a Trump presidency.

Read the full article here.

Romania's Social Democrats win national ballot with 221 parliament seats
Reuters, December 15, 2016

Romania's leftist Social Democrat Party won the most seats in both houses of parliament after a national election and will have a combined 221 deputies and senators, final results unveiled by the Central Electoral Bureau showed on Thursday.

Together with their long-time ally, the ALDE grouping, the PSD has an outright majority of 250 seats out of parliament's 465-seat assembly, which means they will choose the country's next prime minister to replace outgoing Dacian Ciolos.
Read the full article here.

Alexei Navalny Challenges Putin With 2018 Russian Presidential Bid
Moscow Times, December 13, 2016

Opposition activist Alexei Navalny has launched his campaign to run for the Russian presidency in the country’s 2018 elections.

The former lawyer made the announcement in an online video statement on Tuesday, presenting a six-point manifesto focused on battling corruption, boosting wages and pensions, and reforming the police and judiciary.

Read the full article here.
And then in Putin’s Russia, They Came for the Jews …
By Paul Goble
Window in Eurasia, December 13, 2016

On Sunday, as Ekho Moskvy and various bloggers have reported, activists from the extreme right National Liberation Movement of Russia (NOD) in St. Petersburg beat and denounced as “a kike” David Frenkel who took part in an unsanctioned march in support of gay rights.

Read the full article here.
Baltic states urge strong U.S. defense commitment to region
Reuters, December 14, 2016

The defense ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia renewed their call on Wednesday for a strong U.S. engagement in the Baltic region amid concerns over the attitude of the incoming Trump administration.

Donald Trump said during the U.S. presidential campaign that he would consider a country's contribution to the NATO alliance before coming to its defense, rattling many in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia who fear a more assertive Russia.

Read the full article here.
EU officials: EU to extend Russia sanctions for 6 months
AP, December 15, 2016

The European Union will extend its sanctions against Russia for six more months to keep pressure on Moscow to respect the fragile peace agreement in Ukraine, EU officials said Thursday.

Two officials said EU nations backed the deal at a summit of EU leaders and the formal decision will be adopted over the next few days. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision was not officially made yet.
What Will Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State Mean for Jewish Agenda?
By Ron Kampeas
Forward, December 14, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, an energy company large enough to have its own foreign policy. It is a policy, however, that doesn’t always align with the priorities of Jewish and pro-Israel groups. Oil companies have clashed in the past with the pro-Israel lobby.
A big change to U.S. broadcasting is coming — and it’s one Putin might admire
By Editorial Board
Washington Post, December 9, 2016

For years, members of Congress have fumed about what they regard as ineffective U.S. public diplomacy, including the failure of broadcasting operations such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to match the reach and apparent influence of networks such as Russia’s RT and Qatar’s al Jazeera. A frequent and arguably fair focus of criticism has been the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the body created to supervise government-funded media outlets while serving as a firewall between them and the political administration of the day.
Lithuania Braces for Putin … and Trump
BY Emily Tamkin
Foreign Policy, December 9, 2016

In the immortal words of Suga Free, and, it would seem, in the halls of power of Vilnius, “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.”

Lithuania, the largest of the three Baltic states, is trying to make sure it can withstand the double-whammy of an aggressive Russia and a new U.S. president whose commitment to America’s European allies has been lukewarm, at best.

Read the full article here.
Vladimir Putin tops Forbes 2016 list of most influential people
By Nadia Khomami
Guardian, December 14, 2016

Vladimir Putin has beaten Donald Trump to top Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s most powerful people, taking the number one spot for the third consecutive year.

The Forbes list, now in its eighth year, identifies 74 people – one for every 100 million on the planet – whose actions have the most impact across the world. Factors taken into consideration include the amount of people a person has power over, the financial resources they control, whether they have influence in more than one sphere, and how actively they wield their power to change the world.

Read the full article here.
Putin, Trump and the West’s new ideological alliance
By Ishaan Tharoor
Washington Post, December 14, 2016

In a year of surreal political developments, a curious flipping of the script is playing out in Washington: Democrats furious about reports of alleged Russian interference in the American electoral process are the main ones banging the drum about Kremlin perfidy; conservatives, once at the vanguard of the Cold War, are now more circumspect in their criticism of Moscow and, in some instances, rushing to its defense.

Read the full article here.
'Tiger' Israel has wary eye on Iran after Syrian rebels lose Aleppo
By Luke Baker
Reuters, December 15, 2016

The fall of Aleppo to Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran has heightened alarm in Israel about potential threats to its borders and a wider reshaping of the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left no doubt on Wednesday about the depth of Israel's concern about Tehran, whose position and that of its proxies in Syria has been strengthened by the crushing of rebel resistance in Aleppo.

Read the full article here.
'Never again' has become an empty phrase: Why we must remember the Holocaust’s forgotten massacres
By Robert R. Singer
Haaretz, December 15, 2016

There are few events in history recalled as often and in such detail as the Holocaust, in great part due to the vigilance of Jewish communities in ensuring that its tragic lessons not be forgotten and the memories of its victims be honored. And yet the names of the mass killing grounds above – once ordinary cities, forests, or ravines - are often overshadowed by the horrors of the gas chambers and the infamous death camps which housed them.
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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.