Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 26, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

Happy and healthy Passover!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 26, 2021

Russian-Jewish billionaire, communal funder arrested for alleged bribes
Cnaan Lipshiz
The Jerusalem Post | March 24, 2021

Boris Spiegel, a Russian-Jewish pharmaceuticals mogul, has been arrested in Moscow in connection with a corruption investigation.

Spiegel, who has donated substantial time and effort to various Jewish community projects and the World Without Nazism anti-racism organization that he founded, was charged with offering a local politician the equivalent of about $400,000 in bribes, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

Opinion: In Russia, it’s not Navalny vs. Putin. It’s democracy vs. authoritarianism.
Alexander Vindman and Garry Kasparov
The Washington Post | March 22, 2021

On Feb. 25, Amnesty International stripped away the status of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a prisoner of conscience. By singling him out, the move was a blunder, one that undermines the Russian people’s fight against Putinism. If international attention remains focused only on the person rather than the protest movement, this will hinder the development of an opposition movement in Russia and inhibit the democratic world’s response to Putin’s authoritarianism.

Russian security services know it is easier to tarnish and eliminate a man rather than a movement. Amnesty’s announcement has aided the Kremlin’s desire to incapacitate the most serious challenge to the Putin regime in almost a decade. Now, with Navalny imprisoned and the protests ruthlessly subdued, the regime may be poised for another attempt on Navalny’s life, after the failure of his poisoning last year.

The sixth anniversary, on Feb. 27, of the murder of another Russian opposition leader who fought for a vision of a free and democratic Russia — Boris Nemtsov — provides a sobering reminder of the Putin regime’s willingness to shamelessly eliminate opponents. President Biden’s calling Vladimir Putin a “killer” on Wednesday is being portrayed in some quarters as provocative when it is simply accurate.

The Physics of Sanctions

Riddle.io | March 17 2021

The article by Sergey Glandin, recently published on Riddle, thoroughly discusses the likely developments with regard to sanctions against Russia that may be imposed in the near future by the U.S. government and the EU. The author provides a detailed explanation of the mechanism and the legal framework for such measures and concludes that the consequences for Russia could be grave. One of his arguments is that the likely ban “prohibiting US banks, residents, and companies from purchasing Russian sovereign debt, regardless of the currency used for the transaction or whether it is on the primary or secondary market” could deal a serious blow to the budget, which would lose access to a significant share of borrowings. This view is being voiced by many experts today, which is why we should dwell on this claim for a while and assess how much damage such sanctions could do to Russia, and how likely they are to be imposed.

Let us begin by saying that there are no formal obstacles to the establishment of this kind of sanctions regime: it is permitted under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991. This very Act is invoked by Biden’s administration. As readers will remember, in 2019, after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, the U.S. Treasury Department already imposed restrictions barring U.S. banks from participating in initial public offerings of Russian Treasury securities denominated in U.S. dollars. This measure was among the softest interpretations of the actions the administration was obliged to take when Russia did not respond to demands to repent of the use of chemical weapons and to open access to production sites of such weapons.

The impact of the sanctions introduced in August 2019 has been negligible (Russia successfully placed its last $3bn issue of dollar-denominated Eurobonds in the spring of that year, with U.S. companies buying more than 20% of the issue). Since that time, the Russian Ministry of Finance started issuing euro-denominated debt on the Eurobond market (in 2020, a total of two issues were placed, with a nominal value of €2bn). The situation on the domestic market has not changed at all: the U.S.-based Blackrock Inc., Legg Mason Inc. and Vanguard continue to be among the largest holders of Russian federal loan bonds. But what will happen if the toughest possible sanctions are introduced, prohibiting all transactions involving Russian debt for American (and possibly European) banks as well as other legal entities and individuals?

Engage Russia but remain "clear-eyed" while doing so, Blinken tells NAT
Reuters | March 24, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The West must engage with Russia to promote mutual interests but remain “very clear-eyed”, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, at the Biden administration’s first cabinet-level meeting with the NATO alliance scorned by Donald Trump.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to resume dialogue through a council that has not met for two years, arguing that even a difficult relationship needed to be managed to reduce risks.

Blinken, the first top U.S. official to visit NATO since Biden took office in January, charmed allies with a conciliatory tone, after four years when Trump portrayed the Western military alliance as outdated, and castigated members for spending too little on defence.
Blinken called for a firm, shared position on Russia.

No pickles, no shankbone, no cemetery visits: Central Asian Mountain Jews try to preserve centuries-old Passover traditions
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 19, 2021

(JTA) — Ahead of his first Passover in Azerbaijan, Rabbi Shneor Segal stocked up on kosher food for the holiday, when Jews are prohibited from eating foods made from leavened grains.

Segal, an Israel-born emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who immigrated to Azerbaijan in 2010 to run the largest synagogue in the capital Baku, ensured that his congregation had all the kosher-certified basics, like sugar, pickles and cheese.
It was a beginner’s mistake.

As Segal soon discovered Mountain Jews, an ancient community that comprises the bulk of Azerbaijan’s Jewish population of about 8,000, abstain from those products as well on Passover.

The rich and unique traditions of the Mountain Jews are on particular display during Passover, a holiday that for historic reasons has become the most important one for Jews across the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine ready to welcome vaccinated Israelis for Uman pilgrimag
Israel HaYom | March 21, 2021

The Ukrainian government will allow vaccinated Israelis to make an annual Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev in the city of Uman, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Friday.

The development reportedly came amid talks of Israel sending surplus COVID-19 vaccinations to Kiev.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is said to have reached the agreement on Friday after a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Every year, tens of thousands of Israelis travel to the central Ukrainian city of Uman to worship at the tomb of the 19th-century Hasidic rabbi, founder of the Breslev movement.
Last year, however, Ukrainian authorities blocked entry into the country and refused to organize the pilgrimage due to coronavirus pandemic, leading to thousands being stranded at the Ukraine-Belarus border.

Biden and Putin’s War of Words
Alexander Baunov
Carnegie Moscow Center | March 22, 2021

There are several ways of interpreting U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to answer “yes” when a journalist asked him whether he thought Putin was a killer. Above all, Biden revealed that domestic politics are more important to him than international relations. The most pressing concern for the new president was to avoid ambiguity.

In a 2017 interview, then U.S. president Donald Trump answered a similar question by trying to be more diplomatic: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” he told his interviewer. Trump did not reject outright the questioner’s assertion that Putin was a killer, but managed to dilute his answer. Caught in the same journalist trap, Biden put maximum distance between himself and Trump. In contrast to his predecessor, the new president is showing that he will not indulge dictators: he’s honest, straightforward, and, if necessary, will call a villain a villain.

Biden’s blunt assessment was meant to show the rest of the world that the United States is returning to world leadership based on high moral standards. This should be met with particular approval by U.S. allies who are under pressure from Russia: Biden will not cut deals with Putin behind their backs. As long as Biden is not afraid to accuse Putin, he’s not afraid of Putin—or Russia—and will not worry about what they think of him. And that means U.S. allies protecting the borders of the West can rest easy.

Matzah in Beirut or a Seder in Samarkand? These rabbis are making it happen.
David Ian Klein
The Forward | March 22, 2021

How does one get matzah in Iran, Lebanon or Libya? Just ask the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS).

Those are just a few of the countries with small Jewish communities in need of Passover supplies that Rabbi Mendy Chitrik is organizing shipments to ahead of the upcoming holiday.
“We have been in touch with individuals from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt and many countries in between, to support them with their religious needs – including matzah for Passover,” Chitrik said.

Chitrik, who is based in Istanbul, is an emissary of the Chabad movement and also serves as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Turkey. He founded ARIS 18 months ago.
Uzbek kosher wine by the Forward
Uzbekistan’s Rabbi Babaev makes kosher wine to be used at Seders across Central Asia.
After more than two decades working in Turkey, he saw an opportunity to help Jews living in the Muslim world, where receiving support from U.S. Israel-based organizations could sometimes get complicated.

Instead, a network of rabbis who work and live in the Islamic world opted to support each other. Through the Alliance, rabbis in Uzbekistan produced kosher wine to use at Passover Seders throughout Central Asia, while rabbis in Azerbaijan helped bring handmade matzah to Jewish communities in Iran.

Two Words That Shook Putin’s Regime
Pavel K. Baev
The Jamestown Foundation | March 22, 2021

The resonance in Russia from a short fragment of United States President Joseph Biden’s ABC News interview last Wednesday (March 17) has been extraordinarily loud—and the bilateral consequences could be far greater than just the Russian ambassador being recalled to Moscow for consultations (see EDM, March 18). Biden’s plain answer—“I do”—to the question he received about whether he thought President Vladimir Putin was a “killer” produced greater impact than just the orchestrated propaganda outrage and the declarations of loyalty from Russian political elites. While pundits in Moscow claim that Biden miscalculated the damage done to US-Russian relations, the real issue is his expressed readiness to deliver on the promise to make Russia pay for its interference in the US elections, perpetration of large-scale cyberattacks and other crimes (Russiancouncil.ru, March 18).

Putin has sought to undermine this readiness by responding to the direct offense simultaneously with firm resolve and jest. He ironically wished Biden good health but additionally felt compelled to recite favorite Russian “what-about-isms,” including the history of the genocide of indigenous peoples in North America and the Hiroshima atomic bombing; moreover, he challenged Biden to discuss contentious bilateral matters in an open, online conversation (Kommersant, March 19). This unconventional proposition makes little sense considering the substance of the scandal—the question of whether or not the Kremlin leader is a “killer” can hardly be resolved in a televised debate—but it gives Putin the feeling of regaining the initiative (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, March 19). Russian propaganda instantly picked up the topic, openly musing about whether Biden would dare accept Putin’s challenge (RIA Novosti, March 20).

In Hungary, 97-year-old Holocaust survivor doctor still receiving patients
Peter Murphy and Balazs Wizner
The Times of Israel | March 23, 2021

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AFP) — Hungarian family doctor and Holocaust survivor Istvan Kormendi, widely considered the oldest in his profession in the country, is still practicing his “passion” of healing patients at the age of 97.

Born 1923 in his parents’ apartment near the Castle district in the Hungarian capital, Kormendi has practiced there since qualifying as a doctor in 1950.

Although officially retired in 1989, Kormendi remains contracted to the state healthcare system and able to receive patients.

“My father was a doctor and set up this practice in 1920, I was born and raised as a child here,” he told AFP in the apartment that doubles as a clinic.

Among the artifacts stored on top of bookcases and inside medical cabinets are vintage apothecary bottles and old surgical kits with forceps and tweezers.

“At that time there were no large public health clinics as there are now, all the doctors ran practices in their apartments,” he said.

A portrait of his father in military uniform from his service as a doctor during World War I hangs on the wall, with another of Kormendi as a child.