Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 24, 2020
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,
NCSEJ works to promote and protect the well-being of Jewish communities in the second-largest Jewish diaspora. We hope you will support our work when you make your end of the year donations. Please support our yearly Chanukah Appeal by clicking HERE
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. Deceber 24, 2020

European Court of Justice approves Belgian kosher slaughter ba

Lahav Harkov

The Jerusalem Post | December 17, 2020

The European Union Court of Justice has upheld a ban on kosher and hallal slaughter in Belgium.

In a ruling released on Thursday, the court dismissed arguments by Jewish and Muslim groups that Belgium is infringing on their religious rights by requiring them to stun animals in the process of slaughtering them for meat, something contrary to their religious precepts.

The ruling sets a precedent that could lead to a wave of laws against shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter, throughout the European Union.

European regulations ban slaughter without pre-stunning, but they make an exception for religious slaughter. According to the regulations, countries can set their own laws to reduce animal suffering.

The court determined that the laws requiring animals to be stunned strike “a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion.”

The reason the court gave for the law being balanced is that it allows for “reversible stunning.”

Read the full article here.

Popular Ukrainian mayor Gennady Kernes survived a sniper attack but succumbed to COVID

Cnaan Liphshiz

JTA | December 16, 2020

(JTA) — Gennady Kernes, a beloved Ukrainian-Jewish mayor who once narrowly survived a gunman’s attempt on his life, has died of the COVID-19 virus in Germany. He was 61.

Kernes, who had served as the mayor of the city of Kharkiv since 2010, died Wednesday in Germany, where he had been comatose in a hospital for several weeks following his contraction of COVID in September, the news site RBC reported.

The athletically-built lover of fitness and the outdoors was hiking near his native Kharkiv in 2014 when a sniper shot him in the back with a rifle. Several of his vital organs were seriously damaged and he was flown for treatment in Israel. Since the incident he had been a wheelchair user, and authorities never caught the shooter.

Kernes used his charisma, wealth and energy to remain a popular politician in circumstances that stunted or ended or the careers of many of his counterparts. He won 65% of the vote in the Kharkiv mayoral race in 2015 despite the fact that he had for years been loyal to Ukraine’s disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych was deposed in a 2014 bloody revolution and widely regarded since as a corrupt politician and stooge of Russia, the country Yanukovych fled to after his ouster. Many of Yanukovych’s allies were similarly swept from power.

Interview: Russia Blocking Visas For U.S. Diplomatic Staff, Forcing Closure Of Consulates, U.S. Ambassador Says
Radio Free Europe | December 23, 2020

Russian visa restrictions for U.S. diplomatic personnel forced the closure of two consulates, the U.S. ambassador said, blaming Moscow for shutdowns that will leave Russians and American citizens living in Russia with a single diplomatic outpost to turn to in the sprawling country.

In an interview with RFE/RL, John Sullivan also suggested that new Russian legislation targeting so-called foreign agents will be "intolerable" if enforced, and that the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan on espionage charges was a "shocking miscarriage of justice" and a hurdle to the improvement of badly strained relations.

Sullivan accused the Russian government of forcing the United States to shutter the consulates in the Urals region city of Yekaterinburg and in Vladivostok, on the Pacific Coast.

Zionism and Bolshevis

Chimen Abramsky

Tablet Mag | December 17, 2020

n a memorable passage, Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote: “A Russian radical of the last century once observed that his country, compared to the West, had a great deal of geography but little history. It might be said that with Jews the opposite pertains: more than enough history, too little geography.”

During the time available to me I shall endeavor to cover some of the main events of the period 1914 to 1919, both in history and in geography, and particularly those of 1917; events which shaped, molded, and changed the course of Jewish history.

The year 1913 finished with the trial of a little known Jew, Mendel Beiliss; the jury, composed of very ordinary Russian and Ukrainian people, found him not guilty of murdering, for ritual purposes, the Christian boy, Andrey Yuschinsky. The revival by the Czarist Government of the medieval blood libel portrayed more than anything else the full decadence of the whole system. The trial in Kiev shook the Russian Jews to their foundation; this time, however, they were not alone. Leading Russian writers, intellectuals, Liberals, and Socialists—and even some Conservatives—denounced the accusation and the way the trial was conducted. World public opinion was horrified that in the twentieth century such barbarous accusations against a whole people could occur, and the Western World condemned Nicholas II himself as the chief culprit for this outrage. Many people in Russia, and outside, were conscious that the Czar gave open patronage to the Union of the Russian People (the “Black Hundreds,” who were chiefly responsible for starting the Beiliss Trial), financed their publications, and, moreover, “he was an honorary member of the Society,” and “wore the party emblem.”

2020 in Russia: the year when politics became a crime
Ivan Davydov
Riddle.io | December 22, 2020

Plans were set well in advance for the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory. It was to be a watershed event for a state long preoccupied with building a quasi-religious cult round the Second World War. The millions of lives the USSR paid for victory over Hitler’s Germany are the point of departure for Russia’s contemporary foreign policy. These sacrifices justify Russia’s reservations about so-called Western partners whose words of criticism of Russia are interpreted as attempts at the ‘revision of the results of the Nuremberg trials’ and almost a ‘revival of Nazism’. There’s no reason to smile: everything is dead serious. In Russia today, ad hoc propaganda clichés are rapidly becoming irrefutable truths. Those who mouth them are starting to genuinely believe in them and are brutally punishing those who disagree.

At the anniversary, the president himself was to be the front man. Back in late 2019, he delivered a lecture to leaders of several neighbouring countries on the true causes of the Second World War. It also became known that Putin had been working on an article about the war that would put an end to controversies among historians.

In tandem, there was another careful choreography to prepare: power transfer. At the start of 2020, the Constitution held that Putin’s last presidential term will expire in 2024. This made the elites nervous. Sure enough, political scientists soon devised elaborate schemes where Putin somehow retained power after leaving his post. But this issue needed clarity before the 2021 parliamentary election campaign.

Following war, Armenia and Azerbaijan reckon with unexploded ordnance
Joshua Kucera

Eurasia.org | December 23, 2020

Following the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the 1990s, deminers spent decades and tens of millions of dollars clearing the former battleground of land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Now, after 44 days of renewed fighting, they have to start again.

According to a survey of local media reports, at least 11 people have been killed by leftover explosives following the cessation of hostilities on November 10.

In the deadliest single incident, four members of an Azerbaijani family who were visiting their former home in the region of Fuzuli were killed when their car hit a land mine on November 28, the Azerbaijani general prosecutor’s office reported.
The only member of the Russian peacekeeping mission who has thus far been killed in action was a sapper who died as a result of an explosion on December 17.

Among the other victims: an Azerbaijani sapper, another Azerbaijani civilian visiting his former home in Fuzuli, an Azerbaijani colonel working with Russian and Armenian colleagues to recover bodies from the battlefield, two Armenian sappers, and an Azerbaijani soldier.

Until the war started this September, the last fatality as a result of unexploded ordnance on what used to be the Armenian side of the line of control was registered in 2018. The last time someone other than a deminer died was in 2015. On the Azerbaijani side, the last fatal accident was recorded in January.

Building Trust Between Russia and the Baltic Sea Region
Per Carlsen

Carnegie Moscow Center | December 23, 2020

Some will remember that thirty years ago, Denmark was very active in supporting the regained independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and was among the first countries to restore diplomatic relations with the three Baltic states. Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen played an important role in advancing this agenda in the EU, and Danish Defense Minister Hans Hækkerup took the lead in establishing the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion and other defense projects, including the Danish-German-Polish Brigade. 
As the three Baltic states joined the EU and NATO, Russia normalized relations with Denmark, allowing the reburial of Empress Maria Fyodorovna in St. Petersburg. Denmark permitted the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to go through Danish waters, and arranged an official visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Denmark in 2010, as well as an official visit to Russia by the Queen of Denmark in 2011. 
The relationship changed dramatically, however, after Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Danish people again felt sympathy with the small Baltic nations, who feared new Russian interference.

Read the full article here.

Bulgarian Jewish organisation Shalom condemns antisemitic daubing of Plovdiv synagogue

The Sofia Globe | December 23, 2020

The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” has strongly condemned the daubing of antisemitic graffiti on the oldest operating synagogue in Bulgaria, the Zion Synagogue in the city of Plovdiv.

The daubings, on the gate of the synagogue, claimed to be the work of “Antifa Bulgaria”.

Shalom said in a statement on December 23 that according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, the comparison of modern Israeli policies to those of the Nazis is manifest

Shalom called for the perpetrators of the vandalism to be found and punished appropriately.

An informal movement rather than an organisation, Antifa Bulgaria has in recent years held counter-protests against the Lukov March, an event held annually – with the exception of 2020 – in honour of a pro-Nazi general and which has drawn neo-Nazis to Sofia from various parts of Europe.

Exhibition of Jewish culture to go on view in Belarus' National History Museum
Belta | December 22, 2020

MINSK, 22 December (BelTA) – The National History Museum of Belarus will put on display restituted items of Jewish culture. The exhibition will open 28 December, BelTA learned from director of the museum Pavel Sapotko.

“We are working to restitute items that were part of our collection. We are in talks with Israel's museums over the return of some artifacts that belonged to our museum. In 1924, our establishment, which had been named the Belarusian State Museum until 1930, had a Jewish exposition. During the war, the exhibits were taken to Germany. Later, they somehow turned up in Israel, although they had our markings,” Pavel Sapotko noted.

According to him, the exhibition of Jewish heritage will feature many interesting items, including an 18th-century Hanukkah menorah and a unique 18th-century Aron Kodesh (Torah ark) from a synagogue in Uzlyany (Pukhovichi District). The exhibition will also showcase paintings of famous Belarusian-Jewish artist Yehuda Pen, graphic works of Yankel Kruger, and museum's documents of the 1920s-1930s.

Read the full article here.

While Reaching out to Incoming US Administration, Kremlin Signals Resumption of Bilateral Arms Race
Pavel Felgenhauer

The Jamestown Foundation | December 17, 2020

In the wake of the December 14 vote by the Electoral College, which officially confirmed the election of Joseph Biden as the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally, and reluctantly, congratulated the US President-elect. In November 2016, Putin was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory; in 2020, he was apparently the last head of state of a major world power to extend the same gesture to Biden. Putin sent his congratulations via telegram, expressing hope that Moscow and Washington can work together constructively to solve global problems “despite their differences” (Interfax, December 15).

Today (December 17), the Russian president held his annual “big” end-of-year press conference, an event that, once again, lasted over four hours. This time, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held mostly online. During his remarks, Putin reiterated his hope of a constructive relationship with the incoming US administration and noted that Biden had previously stated he would prolong the New START nuclear arms control treaty, which expires on February 5, 2021. Another important point of interest to Putin and his subordinates is the nearly completed Nord Stream Two natural gas pipeline, the construction of which was temporarily halted by US sanctions targeting European pipeline servicing and building companies. Nord Stream Two is designed to double Gazprom’s possible gas volumes transited directly to Germany, from Russia, under the Baltic Sea. It would run parallel to and double the 55 billion cubic meters per annum capacity of the preexisting Nord Stream One pipeline project. Nord Stream Two would allow Gazprom to stop pumping any more Europe-bound gas through Ukraine, thus providing Moscow an additional tool with which to pressure Kyiv. The pipeline has been strongly opposed by Poland, other Central European states and the European Commission; but it is defiantly promoted by Berlin and the German business sector, which is a major pro-Russian and pro-Putin lobbying force in Europe. According to Putin, Russia has “many, many friends in Germany.” Putin hopes Biden, who has expressed a desire to rebuild relationships with European allies, will drop the Trump administration’s sanctions against Nord Stream Two (more of which were just included in the recently passed Congressional 2021 defense authorization bill—see EDM, December 14), helping out the Kremlin leader and his allies (Kremlin.ru, December 17). Gazprom has sunk billions of dollars into almost completing Nord Stream Two, while Putin seems to have a personal interest in the state-controlled gas monopoly’s wellbeing.

The Road Not Taken: The Divergent Paths of Two Jewish Brothers From Fin De Siècle Warsaw

Adrian Hennigan

Haaretz| December 23, 20201, 2020 

When Elena Ragozhina discussed her family with friends, she would occasionally joke that her grandfather had one brother – and she was a descendent of the idiot.

Those brothers, Adolphe and Marcus Neyman, were born in Warsaw at the tail end of the 19th century and lived diametrically opposed lives after leaving the Polish capital as ambitious young men and seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
If I were to tell you that one of them, Adolphe, headed west while the other, Marcus, headed east, prizes would not be given for successfully guessing which of them ultimately enjoyed a comfortable life and which endured a tough, unjustly cruel one.

Yet as Elena’s daughter and Marcus’ great-granddaughter, Nadia Ragozhina, shows in her beautifully written, touching new family memoir “Worlds Apart” – about the two branches of her family – no Jews on the Continent were ever far from tragedy as the 20th century unfolded, whichever way they headed. Indeed, an alternative title for the book could have been “The Worst of Both Worlds: Nazi Death Camps and Soviet Gulags.”

If you can imagine a personal family history whose contrasting lives wouldn’t be out of place in a Herman Wouk or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel, you’ll get a sense of how rewarding “Worlds Apart: The Journeys of My Jewish Family in Twentieth-Century Europe,” to give it its full title, is.

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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.