Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. July 15, 2016

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

This week in Russia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Vladimir Putin, in yet another effort to find a resolution to the conflict in Syria. The meeting comes despite last weekend’s decision by NATO to station additional battalions in Poland and the Baltic states.
A group of young reformist politicians in Ukraine has launched a new political party called “Democratic Alliance.” The party aims to unite centrists and center-rightists to fight for liberal/libertarian ideals and tough anticorruption measures. The new party faces a potential challenge for its base, however, from former Georgian Prime Minister Mikheil Saakashvili, rumored to be launching his own political party in the fall.
In another Ukraine story, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday approved the STAND for Ukraine Act, readying it for consideration by the full House of Representatives. The act, introduced by Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), bolsters private-sector support for Ukraine, and links any sanctions relief for Russia to steps to secure Ukraine’s territorial integrity. For more information, including a full list of cosponsors, please see www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5094/.
Pope Francis announced this week that he will travel to the Caucasus nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan, where he will meet with leaders from Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. The trip follows on his recent visit to Armenia. The Pope says he will ask Azerbaijan to seek a peaceful resolution to the decades-old conflict in the fractious province of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I encourage you to read a story featured in yesterday’s Times of Israel about U.S. philanthropist and longtime NCSEJ supporter Tad Taube, who recently made news with a $15 million donation to the Reform Movement’s campus in Jerusalem. The article details the tremendous impact his generosity has made in Poland, the United States, and Israel.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. July 15, 2016

Kerry seeks Russian cooperation despite deep misgivings within U.S. administration
By Yara Bayoumy and John Walcott
Reuters, July 14, 2016

WASHINGTON | U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow on Thursday to again seek closer Russian cooperation in the war against Islamic State in Syria, but he faces strong opposition from defense and intelligence officials who argue that Washington and Moscow have diametrically opposite objectives in the country.

Kerry's trip, which State Department officials say is his second to the Russian capital this year and his third in 12 months, takes place as U.S.-Russian relations have worsened with tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, aggressive Russian maneuvers toward U.S. aircraft and vessels, and a disregard for a cessation of hostilities in Syria, where Russia has bombed U.S.-backed rebels.

Relations between Moscow and Washington also remain strained over the Ukraine crisis and what the Kremlin considers NATO’s unjustified activities along its borders, raising fears that disagreements could escalate into confrontations, either accidental in Syria or the result of miscalculations in the air and naval encounters from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

Yet Kerry, it seems, still hopes for closer collaboration with Russia, to the disbelief of many officials who say the Obama administration has no strategy on how to deal with the challenges Russia poses in Europe and Syria.

Read the full article here.

Next up after NATO's Baltic/Poland build-up: lowering tension with Russia
Despite new NATO troops for Eastern Europe, Russia must quickly dial back tensions
By Sara Miller Llana and Fred Weir
Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 2016   

Warsaw and Moscow — The NATO Summit that wrapped up in Warsaw over the weekend did so in historic terms.

The official decision to station four battalions in former Soviet states to counter modern Russian aggression was hailed as “21st-century deterrence and defense in the face of 21st-century challenges” by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We’re moving forward with the most significant reinforcement of collective defense [at] any time since the cold war,” said President Obama.

But even as plans were made to bolster NATO’s eastern flank amid a military buildup on the Russian side, leaders and experts said both NATO and Russia must now quickly dial back tensions – through constant communication, transparency, and by finding common ground on issues that each finds threatening.

Read the full article here.

For US philanthropist Taube, keeping Israelis Jewish means boosting Reform Jewry
$15 million donation to Reform Movement’s Jerusalem campus may look like a statement, but he’s not out to spark a religious war
By Amanda Borschel-Dan
Times of Israel, July 13, 2016

A new architectural gem will soon decorate Jerusalem’s horizon. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, a “beautified,” enlarged and renovated Hebrew Union College campus will be conspicuously nestled between the capital’s two most luxurious hotels — the historical King David and the more modern David Citadel.

But in Israel, where everything is arguably political — or at least arguable — the creation of a stunning space dedicated to Reform Jewry on Main Street, Jerusalem, is more than merely a beautification project. For many, it is a statement, a striking physical reminder of religious pluralism.

Just ahead of the June 29 construction project’s groundbreaking ceremony, The Times of Israel sat with the project’s major funder, Tad Taube, who donated $15 million, and the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute Rabbi Aaron Panken to discuss the renovation’s potential impact and implications — intentional or not.

Read the full article here.

South African Jews praise move to ease path for Litvaks to reclaim citizenship
JTA, July 14, 2016

The South African Jewish community praised amendments made by the government of Lithuania to its citizenship law that will make it easier for former Lithuanian citizens and their descendants to reclaim citizenship in the country.

In a statement released Wednesday, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies welcomed the amendments that it had worked on with the Lithuanian government. The majority of South African Jews are originally from Lithuania, according to the board.

The amendment signed earlier this month by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite removes obstacles for former citizens who lived in Lithuania between 1918 and 1940 to reclaim their citizenship.

The amendment went into effect on July 7 after being unanimously passed in Parliament.

Read the full article here.

Engel Applauds Committee Passage of Ukraine Bill
U.S. House of Representatives, July 14, 2016

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today welcomed approval by the Committee of his comprehensive legislation to address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.  The STAND for Ukraine Act (H.R.5094), which he introduced in April along with a bipartisan group of 15 members, clarifies the position of the United States on Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, tightens sanctions on Russia, and drives new innovations to provide support for Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

Euromaidan Leaders Launch New Party in Ukraine. Can It Succeed?
By Adrian Karatnycky
Atlantic Council, July 11, 2016

As Europe lurches in the direction of populism, xenophobic anti-immigrant attitudes, and anti-EU posturing, Ukraine appears to be tilting the other way. Located largely outside European discourse for the last twenty-five years, Ukraine is now odd man out, with pro-EU sentiments running high, xenophobic attitudes largely absent, and not one but two initiatives under way to create new liberal political parties.

On July 9, Ukraine witnessed the emergence of a serious push to form a European liberal political party.

The new initiative is being led by Mustafa Nayem, a former journalist and now legislator, whose Facebook and Twitter postings helped trigger the Maidan Revolution of 2013-2014; Sergii Leshchenko, an investigative journalist who has exposed some of Ukraine’s largest corruption schemes; Svitlana Zalischuk, a former civic activist turned politician; and Deputy Minister of the Environment, Svitlana Kolomiyets. Vasyl Gatsko is the leader of an activist political party, the Democratic Alliance, which will become the platform for the new liberals. Gatsko and Zalischuk were elected as the party’s co-chairs on July 9 in Kyiv.

All of the new party’s leaders are in their twenties and thirties. And all are committed to the creation of a political party that unites the center and the center-right and backs free market approaches, is steadfastly libertarian on matters of personal choice, and is a staunch proponent of tough anticorruption measures.

Read the full article here.

Pope to meet with Muslim and Jewish leaders during trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan
Associated Press, July 11, 2016

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will meet with Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders during his Sept. 30-Oct. 2 trip to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, adding a strong interreligious dimension to an already politically delicate trip.

The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary for the Caucasus trip, which was originally planned as an extension of Francis' recent visit to Armenia but was split up.

In Georgia, after meeting with the president, Francis will call on the spiritual leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, and meet with the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic community.

In majority-Muslim Azerbaijan, Francis will celebrate Mass with the tiny Catholic community and meet with the region's chief imam, the Orthodox bishop of Baku and head of the country's Jewish community.

Read the full article here.

Russia's 'Yarovaya Law' Imposes Harsh New Restrictions On Religious Groups
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, July 11, 2016

The legislation, signed into law earlier this month by Russian President Vladimir Putin, had already drawn scorn from critics in and outside of Russia.

Known as the "Yarovaya Law," the measure includes new police and counterterrorism measures that directly echo the sweeping powers wielded by the KGB to stifle dissent and repress opposition activists throughout the Soviet era.

But one largely overlooked aspect of the law is garnering new scrutiny and worry: tight restrictions on the activities of religious groups, particularly smaller denominations.

The new restrictions "will make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people," said Thomas J. Reese, who heads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government agency that monitors religious expression around the world.

"Neither these measures nor the currently existing antiextremism law meet international human rights and religious freedom standards," he said in statement released last week.

Read the full article here.

Russian editors 'fired over stories that irked officials'
By Maria Tsvetkova and Polina Devitt
Reuters, July 13, 2016

A former editor of a Russian media group described how he and colleagues were pushed out over reporting that angered officials, in the first public account of the taming of Russia's last big news organization willing to take on the Kremlin.

In his first public comments since his dismissal along with two other top editors from RBC media group in May, Roman Badanin told Reuters that he and his colleagues were fired in the wake of a campaign of pressure on the group's billionaire owner that came to a head after they published a story on the "Panama Papers" leaks.

Last week, RBC managers presented the replacement editors, recruited from state-owned news agency Tass, who told a tense meeting with staff that there would be limits on what and how they could report, according to someone who was present.

Read the full article here.

Vilnius defers decision to rechristen street named for Nazi collaborator
i24news, July 14, 2016

The controversy over Lithuania's World War Two legacy reared its head again on Wednesday, when a council vote in capital city Vilnius deferred the decision to rechristen a street named for Kazys Škirpa, a Nazi collaborator.

Mark Adam Harold, the first foreigner to be elected to the Vilnius city council, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that he had requested that the municipality's Names Commission vote to rename the thoroughfare to the Street of Righteous Among the Nations.

Read the full article here.

Rise in anti-Semitism in Western Europe, decrease in Eastern Europe: poll
Survey finds 19% of Jewish communities in Europe report increase, while 66% see no real change
i24news, July 12, 2016

A recent survey has revealed a rise in anti-Semitism in Western Europe, while at the same time there has been a decline in anti-Jewish sentiments in Eastern European countries.

The survey was conducted by the EJA (European Jewish Association) ahead of a discussion Wednesday on anti-Semitism in Europe at the Israeli Knesset's Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora.

The poll found that 19 percent of Jewish communities - the vast majority of them in Western Europe (mainly in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland) - reported a rise in anti-Semitism.

However, some 9.5% of Jewish communities - the vast majority of them in Eastern Europe - reported a decline in anti-Semitism in the past year.

Around 66% of Jewish communities throughout Europe (East and West) reported a lack of real change in the level of anti-Semitism in the past year.

Read the full article here.

75 years after Jedwabne pogrom, Poland wrestles with evidence of complicity
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, July 12, 2016

JEDWABNE, Poland — Known to few people in post-communist Poland prior to the 2001 publication of a book about it, the Jedwabne massacre was one of about 20 anti-Semitic atrocities during or immediately after the Holocaust perpetrated by Poles. It prompted the country’s previous president, Bronislaw Komorowski, to “beg forgiveness” for the actions of “perpetrators among the nation of victims,” as he said in 2011.

But in a country where anti-Russian sentiment is fueling a nationalist revival, historians, politicians and activists are engaged in a campaign to discredit the inconvenient accounts from Jedwabne and those who exposed them.

Lewin, who survived the war because he was rescued by Polish villagers, recalled the massacre at Jedwabne on Sunday to some 150 visitors who attended a low-key ceremony commemorating its 75th anniversary.

None of the villagers participated in the memorial event, which the mayor could not attend due to a previous engagement.

Read the full article here.

Diggers in Lithuania unearth complex that housed Vilna Gaon’s synagogue
JTA, July 15, 2016

VILNIUS, Lithuania— An international team of archeologists unearthed part of the complex that housed the former Great Synagogue of Vilnius, which Soviet authorities destroyed after World War II.

An underground floor of a building belonging to the complex that housed the 18th-century synagogue was exposed for the first time since 1957 earlier this month by experts from the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel and Lithuania, the director of a Jewish museum involved in the excavation told JTA Wednesday.

The Jewish complex is internationally significant because it used to be the center of one of Eastern Europe’s largest and most prominent Jewish communities. It was the base of the 18th-century rabbinical luminary Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, also known as the Vilna Gaon.

The complex and synagogue were razed in the 1950s after sustaining damage during World War II, and buried under earth atop of which a school was built.

Read the full article here.

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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.