Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 21, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

NCSEJ is disheartened and profoundly disappointed by the result of the vote at the United Nations to reject Jerusalem's status as the capital of Israel. The final vote was 128-9 with 35 abstentions. The countries within our purview voted as follows: Latvia, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland abstained; Bulgaria, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, voted in favor; and Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Turkmenistan did not cast votes. 

This week, the Trump administration approved the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to assist its military in the armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region. 

In Kyiv, a chanukkiyah displayed in the city's historic Podil neighborhood was desecrated twice, once with a swastika and again with a red substance resembling blood. The police immediately initiated an investigation and NCSEJ is in contact with the community to follow the situation.

The European Union approved a six month extension on its sanctions regime against Russia for its incursion in Ukraine.

In Poland, the government has promised to contribute $28 million to restore the Okopowa Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, one of the largest in Europe. NCSEJ visited the site during its 2017 Leadership Mission to Poland and welcomes the government's pledge to maintain one of the world's largest Jewish cemeteries.

We also share with you a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the rise of a far-right political party in Austria that was originally founded by a member of the SS. This is yet another example within a disturbing trend of growing legitimacy for far-right, extremist political parties in Europe.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. December 21, 2017

U.N. passes measure implicitly condemning Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital

By Carol Morello

Washington Post, December 21, 2017

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a measure rejecting the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which was repeatedly criticized as undermining the prospects for peace.

Despite blunt warnings of U.S. funding cuts, 128 countries voted in favor of the nonbinding resolution and only nine voted against it. Another 35 countries abstained.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world’s largest contribution to the U.N., and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Haley had said the U.S. Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem regardless of the vote.

Read the full article here.

Trump administration approves lethal arms sales to Ukraine

By Josh Rogin
Washington Post, December 20, 2017

The Trump administration has approved the first ever U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, in a clear break from the de facto U.S. ban on arms sales that dates back to the Obama administration. The move was heavily supported by top Trump national security Cabinet officials and Congress but may complicate President Trump’s stated ambition to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Administration officials confirmed that the State Department this month approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. These weapons address a specific vulnerability of Ukrainian forces fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement in two eastern provinces. There has been no approval to export the heavier weapons the Ukrainian government is asking for, such as Javelin antitank missiles.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine War Flares Again After a Lull
Andrew E. Kramer

New York Times, December 20, 2017

The war in rebel-held eastern Ukraine has escalated sharply this week, with the heaviest fighting in nearly a year, European observers and Western diplomats reported on Wednesday.

The fighting broke out in the midst of a snowstorm overnight Tuesday and has continued unabated since, the observers say. While skirmishes are common, the heavy artillery barrages have been the thickest since a flare-up in February.

Ukrainian authorities linked the escalation to the Russian military’s decision to withdraw officers from a joint Russian and Ukrainian liaison group that had assisted in monitoring the shaky cease-fire deal, known as the Minsk 2 agreement.

Read the full article here.

Menorah in Kiev Desecrated Twice During Hanukkah

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, December 18, 2017

A menorah placed by Masoret, the Masorti Jewish community of Kiev, in a main square of the Ukrainian capital was vandalized twice this Hanukka, according to Reuven Stamov, the rabbi of the Masoret Jewish community in the Ukraine.

The first case of vandalism was discovered by members of the community on the first day on Hanukka when a swastika was found drawn on the menorah in Kontraktova Square in the Podil neighborhood.

After cleaning up the graffiti, the community found it desecrated again on Sunday, with a substance that looked like blood.

Members of the Jewish community called the police who are investigating the incident.

Read the full article here.

208 New Jewish Immigrants From Ukraine Celebrate First Hanukkah in Israel

Jewish News Service, December 20, 2017

More than 200 new Jewish immigrants from Ukraine arrived in Israel this week and celebrated their first Hanukkah in the Jewish state.

The flight of 208 immigrants was chartered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) and arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on the seventh day of Hanukkah. The immigrants enjoyed a festive breakfast of jelly doughnuts and lit a menorah in the airport.

“It is so symbolic that you arrived in Israel at the height of the Festival of Lights—Hanukkah,” Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration Sofa Landver told the new immigrants.

Read the full article here.

Kennan Cable No. 29: U.S. Sanctions Law and Western Coordination on Russia Policy

By Dominik Tolksdorf

Kennan Institute/Wilson Center, December 20, 2017

The United States and the European Union have coordinated their sanctions against Russia for more than three years. In July 2017 the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed additional sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea that were signed into law by President Trump on August 2. The legislation was drafted in the context of the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and the investigations into whether President Trump's campaign colluded with Russia, and was heavily driven by Congress’s desire to prevent Donald Trump from unilaterally lifting the sanctions against Russia. While the Russian administration criticized the new law, the draft legislation also led to surprisingly harsh reactions in Germany. While U.S. lawmakers addressed some of the European concerns in the final version of the law, questions remain over the future of transatlantic coordination in implementing sanctions on Russia.

Read the full article here.

EU Officially Extends Ukraine-Related Sanctions Against Russia For Six Months

By Rikard Jozwiak

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 21, 2017

The European Union has formally prolonged economic sanctions against Russia for six months over Moscow's aggressive actions in Ukraine.

The European Council said in a December 21 statement that it formalized a decision made by EU leaders last week to extend the existing restrictions against Moscow until July 2018.

The EU measures, which mainly target the Russian banking and energy sectors, were first imposed in the summer of 2014 and have been extended every six months since then.

The December 14 agreement in Brussels followed a debate among EU leaders in which French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for an extension.

Read the full article here.

Why Israel should fear Russia

By Alexei Bayer

Kyiv Post, December 17, 2017

Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv has met with widespread condemnation. Luminaries such as Pope Francis added their criticism to that of the United Nations and the European Union, and it is not surprising therefore that a voice from Russia has been barely noticed. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wrote in his account on Instagram that Israel should expect a wider intifada and a large scale war as a result of Trump’s move.

Kadyrov has done lots of odious things. His Chechnya is a de facto independent enclave within Russia where everything nasty Russia has been accused of has been crudely magnified. Including authoritarian rule, human rights abuses, murder of dissidents, attacks on the LGBT community, fielding of mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, etc. But while he is still seen as a minor Caucasus tyrant, he may soon become much more than that. Israel in particular should watch him closely – especially now, since thanks to the incompetence of the Obama administration and collusion with the Kremlin in Trump’s Russia has been able to establish a permanent presence in Syria.

Read the full article here.

Poland pledges $28 million for Warsaw Jewish cemetery restoration

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 20, 2017

Poland’s government pledged $28 million to restoring the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, making the preservation project one of the largest of its kind in European history.

Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski told World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer about the funding on Monday following a Dec. 8 vote in the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, WJC wrote in a statement Monday. More than 400 lawmakers voted in favor and only four opposed, with six abstaining, TVN reported.

Singer and several others from the WJC delegation to the country this week were joined in its visit to the Jewish cemetery on Monday by Anna Chipczynska, the president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw.

Poland cries foul as EU triggers ‘nuclear option’ over judicial independence

By Daniel Boffey and Christian Davies

The Guardian, December 20, 2017

The Polish government has accused the European commission of a politically motivated attack after the EU’s executive body triggered a process that could see the country stripped of voting rights in Brussels, over legal changes that the bloc claims threaten the independence of the judiciary.

In a highly symbolic moment, Poland’s fellow 27 EU member states were advised by the commission on Wednesday that the legislative programme of Poland’s government was putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state by allowing political interference in its courts.

The row represents the greatest crisis in the EU since Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year, with the Polish government showing little inclination to back down.

Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the commission, told reporters in Brussels that in two years 13 laws had been adopted that put at serious risk the independence of Poland’s judiciary and the separation of powers.

Read the full article here.

Rise of far-right party raises fears that Austria hasn’t learned from its Holocaust past

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 19, 2017

Like Germany’s governments, those of neighboring Austria have acknowledged their country’s role as a chief perpetrator of the Holocaust.

Since the 1990s, Austrian officials have faced up to and condemned how their countrymen and authorities supported Adolf Hitler, an Austria native, and his war of annihilation against Jews.

Yet in spite of this increased sensitivity, nationalism with Nazi roots is making a comeback in Austria: The far-right Freedom Party, or FPO, which was founded in 1956 by a former SS officer, on Sunday became the only coalition partner of Chancellor-elect Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party. Kurz ignored the calls by local Jews to drop FPO.

Read the full article here.

Head of Hungary’s Nationalist Jobbik Party Denounces Party’s Past anti-Semitism

Associated Press/Haaretz, December 17, 2017

Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik party will not return to its far-right origins, including frequent anti-Semitic and racist remarks by its politicians, party chairman Gabor Vona said Friday.

Jobbik is the strongest opposition group but far behind Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party in the polls ahead of April’s election.

Vona told The Associated Press in an interview that he has pushed Jobbik in a more centrist direction to become a “people’s party” and attract more voters.

“I decided in 2013 that this is how I will lead the party or I won’t lead it at all,” Vona said. “The kind of anti-Semitic expressions which took place in Jobbik earlier are impossible to imagine. Or if they did, they would naturally draw the most severe sanctions.”

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.