Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 11, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

As the Trump administration considers plans to send lethal aid to Ukraine to assist in the ongoing conflict in the Donbass region, we share with you two analytical pieces that examine arguments for and against provision of weapons. Arguing for provision of lethal aid is former Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, while Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan argues against. To date, the Trump administration has not made a decision on the matter.

The Jewish community of Almaty is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the city's main synagogue. Opened in 1997, the Beis Menachem Center provides a home for the city's several thousand Jews. Kazakhstan remains a peaceful home for Jews, many of whom were exiled there under Soviet rule or fled to the region during the Holocaust. Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan Yeshaya Cohen has led the community since 1994. In this week's update, we share with you an article discussing some of the ways in which Kazakhstan and Israel cooperate.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. August 11, 2017

Why the Case Against Arming Ukraine Doesn’t Hold Water

By John Herbst

Atlantic Council, August 8, 2017

Armchair strategists have come out of the woodwork to explain why it would be a mistake for the United States to arm Ukraine. They argue that Russia is stronger than Ukraine and can outmatch any escalation, Moscow has a greater interest in Ukraine than Washington, and Ukraine’s government is corrupt and undeserving of such support.

These arguments are based on hoary myths, outdated analyses, and an incomplete understanding of Kremlin policy and American interests.

In “Don’t Arm Ukraine,” Michael Brendan Dougherty claims that “Ukraine is a deeply divided country,” echoing the infamous CIA National Intelligence Estimate from the 1990s that said Ukraine might split in two. But that prediction proved false and, while differences between east and west Ukraine have not disappeared, they have lessened considerably since 2014.

Read the full article here.

Why giving Ukraine lethal weapons would be a massive mistake

By Charles Kupchan

Washington Post, August 7, 2017

The Trump administration is in the midst of making a decision on whether to transfer lethal weaponry to Ukraine. This potential move is intended to give Ukraine’s military the ability to impose new costs on the Russians and their proxies engaged in a separatist revolt in the country’s eastern region of Donbass, thereby persuading the Kremlin to give up the fight.

But the result would likely be the opposite — an escalation in the conflict that would lead to further losses of Ukraine’s territory and compromise its political stability. Russia enjoys insurmountable military superiority over Ukraine. The United States should not encourage Ukraine to engage in an escalatory confrontation with Russia. Washington knows full well that Ukraine cannot prevail.

The urge to give Ukraine lethal arms — most likely in the form of anti-tank weapons — is understandable. Since 2014, the Russians have occupied and illegally annexed Crimea and sustained a separatist rebellion in Donbass that has claimed more than 10,000 lives. Moreover, Russia has engaged in these acts of aggression in order to block Ukraine’s desire to leave Moscow’s sphere of influence and join the community of Western democracies.

Read the full article here.

On the Front Line with Ukraine’s ‘Band of Brothers’

By Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, August 8, 2017

Ukraine – Casper, Sniper, Hammer, Owl. These are just some of the nicknames of Ukrainians who volunteered to serve in the Donbass Battalion, a unit formed in 2014 to fight pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

On the front line they call each other “friend” in lieu of the old Soviet-style “comrade.” And each goes by his nickname. It’s not just for fraternal reasons. There are many common first names in Ukraine so an officer searching for “Sasha” might find several men in each unit with the same name.

Over several days on the front line of Ukraine’s “frozen” war – being fought in the east of the country against pro-Russian separatist republics that broke away in 2014 – these fighters detailed the challenges they face daily.

Read the full article here.

Researchers find Jewish headstones at the Nazi killing site of Babi Yar

JTA, August 11, 2017

Before murdering tens of thousands of Jews at Babi Yar near Kiev, Nazi troops dumped at the killing site dozens of Jewish headstones they had stolen from Jewish cemetery, researchers in Ukraine discovered.

“The tombstones were removed from a local Jewish cemetery during the Holocaust and thrown into the same ravines where over 150,000 Jews, Roma people and Ukrainians were murdered during the Holocaust,” Marek Siwiec, a former Polish politician and current head of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, said in a statement earlier this week about the discovery.

Siwiec’s organization extracted last month 50 headstones from the Babi Yar ravine, where Nazis and local collaborators murdered more than 50,000 Jews starting in September 1941.

Read the full article here.

Polish Jews call out leading politicians for not fighting anti-Semitism

JTA, August 10, 2017

Flagging a what she called a “low point” for Polish Jews’ feeling of security, a leader of that community urged the country’s right-wing ruling party to help fight anti-Semitism.

The unusual appeal came in an open letter sent last week by Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, and Anna Chipczynska, who heads the Warsaw community, to a founder of the Law and Justice Party. It was the first of its kind in Poland in recent decades, Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.

In the letter to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the co-authors wrote that they are “appalled by recent events and fearful for our security as the situation in our country is becoming more dangerous.”

Read the full article here.

Soaking Up the Jewish Culture in Krakow

By Ruth Schwetizer

Canadian Jewish News, August 9, 2017

Watching Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express performing Sufi devotional music with lyrics in Hebrew and Urdu at the Tempel Synagogue in Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter, it was hard not to think about the Jews who would have filled the ornate shul even eight decades ago.

Just before the Second World War, 60,000 Jews lived in Krakow, making up about a quarter of the city’s population. Today, it is estimated that there are around 1,000 Jews living in the city, with only a fraction of those identifying themselves as part of the Jewish community.

I felt as if I had entered a twilight zone as the intense Middle East rhythms performed by Ben Tzur, an Israeli, and an Indian ensemble filled the shul and ecstatic dancers crowded the front of the stage.

Tempel – which features a magnificent, gilded interior that was restored in 2000 – is a Reform synagogue that dates back to 1862. Today, occasional services are held there, but it’s mainly used as a concert hall year round. Each year Tempel becomes musical headquarters for the nine-day Jewish Culture Festival, which brought Ben Tzur and his band to town for the event this past June. The festival’s theme this year was Jerusalem.

Read the full article here.

Polish villagers hold Jewish wedding without Jews

By Cnaan Lipshiz

JTA, August 9, 2017

Nostalgia for Jews is a well-documented phenomenon in Eastern Europe, with cultural and even substantial commercial aspects.

In Ukraine,  so-called Jewish-themed restaurants with pork-heavy menus compete for tourists, while figurines of Jews are sold at markets as good luck charms. In Poland, graffiti reading “I miss you, Jew” have become a common sight.

Beyond the kitsch, Jewish cultural festivals draw large non-Jewish audiences in Krakow, Warsaw and Budapest.

Some credit this trend to a feeling of loss over the near annihilation of once-vibrant Jewish communities. Others trace it a desire to reconnect with the pre-Soviet past.

But even against this backdrop, the fake Jewish wedding that was held Saturday in the village of Radzanów, 80 miles northeast of Warsaw, stands out as a remarkable affair.

Read the full article here.

JDC Sees Jewish Volunteering Bloom in Europe and FSU       

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, August 9, 2017

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has noted a significant rise in Jewish volunteering efforts throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union this summer, with an increase in camping activities geared toward contributing to community life and helping those in need.

It noted that this is reflective of trends in the US, were the American Camp Association reported that half of American-based summer camps now offer community service activities.

“One of the most promising developments among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is their enthusiastic desire to give back to the neediest and build Jewish communities through volunteerism,” JDC CEO David Schizer said on Tuesday.

Read the full article here.

Russian Jewish Congress marks 75 years since largest Holocaust massacre in Russia

World Jewish Congress, August 8, 2017

The Russian Jewish Congress will hold a March of the Living symbolic funeral procession on Friday in Zmievskaya Balka (Rostov-on-Don) to mark the 75th anniversary of the August 1942 extermination of the town’s Jewish population at the hand of the Nazis and their accomplices. The commemoration is a joint initiative of the RJC (the Russian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress) and the local Rostov government, and is part of a series of events being held across the country this week to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The symbolic march in Rostov-on-Don is the largest of the events being held this week, and is the first March of the Living to be dedicated to victims at Zmievskaya Balka, the largest Holocaust massacre in Russia. Additional marches will be held on August 13 in Arzgir (Stavropol Krai), Kaliningrad, Kislovodsk,(Stavropol Krai), Mineralniye Vody (Stavropol Krai), Novozibkov (Bryansk Oblast), Orel, Stavropol, and other cities across Russia.

To commemorate the Zmievskaya Balka massacre, participants will follow the route taken by the Nazi-led Rostovchani who marched 27,000 victims - more than half of them Jewish -  to execution by gunfire.

Read the full article here.

Russian Jews Decry Official’s ‘Humiliating’ Holocaust Comments

The Moscow Times, August 9, 2017

A spokesperson for Russia’s Jewish community has described claims that Jews are profiting from their past suffering as “humiliating.”

The director of the Russian-Polish Center, Yury Bondarenko, told the E-Vesti news outlet last week that Jews held the “sweetest and most lucrative” place, along with Armenians, in capitalizing on their historical tragedies.

Borukh Gorin, a spokesperson for the Federation of Jewish Organizations in Russia (FEOR), responded to the comments saying, “It is regrettable that the head of a state-sponsored organization in charge of building bridges between nations has argued that Jews and Armenians attempt to monetize their tragedy.”

Read the full article here.

Property stolen during the Holocaust made some communities richer, even 70 years later

By Evgeny Finkel and Volha Chernysh

The Washington Post, August 8, 2017

One month ago, on July 9, Iraq’s prime minister announced the liberation of Mosul after three years of Islamic State rule. The violence displaced almost 800,000 civilians; more than 40,000 died, and large tracts of the city were turned to rubble during the battle that had lasted since October 2016. Beyond those dramatic losses, the war also fundamentally reshaped local communities — as the remaining houses, land and other assets changed owners.

Of the Iraqi refugees interviewed by the International Organization for Migration, 89 percent said they had their dwellings confiscated; some 35 percent lost farmland, and 13 percent lost businesses. In Syria, Eastern Ukraine and other conflict zones, the victors and survivors are also taking property from those who have fled or died.

Do communities experiencing such wartime plunder change their economic status and political views?

Our research examines how communities were affected by property transfers during the Holocaust, one of the largest and best-documented cases of mass violence and plunder. During this time, some non-Jewish Europeans took over the homes, businesses and other property of the Nazis’ victims.

Read the full article here.

On the Trail of Books Stolen by the Nazis

By Lucette Lagnado

Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2017

Françoise Basch still remembers her grandfather’s “massive” library at his home in the heart of Paris.

Her grandfather, Victor Basch, a French Jewish intellectual and professor, loved his books, she recalls. But during World War II, the Nazis seized the entire collection after he fled Paris.

Professor Basch and his wife were shot to death by members of the Vichy regime and the Gestapo in Lyon, where they had sought refuge. But some of his books recently surfaced in—of all places—Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

According to Holocaust experts, the Nazis stole tens of millions of books from Jews and other victims. Recently, scholars have focused on 1.2 million volumes the Nazis plundered—including 500,000 taken largely from French Jewish families and institutions. The books went from France to Germany to Silesia, where they were scooped up by the Red Army as spoils of war.

Read the full article here.

Holocaust education in Moldova is about to get (slightly) better

By Julie Masis

Times of Israel, August 4, 2017

In a Moldovan secondary school history textbook, seven pages are devoted to the crimes of communist leader Joseph Stalin — an entire chapter with numerous photos illustrating the horrors of the gulag.

The Holocaust, on the other hand, gets a page and a half in the chapter on World War II, right after the section entitled “The Liberation of Bessarabia,” which covers the occupation of Moldova by Romanian fascists. During that time, the dictatorship deported to concentration camps about 10 percent of the country’s population — including more than 110,000 Jews and approximately 25,000 Gypsies. Less than half returned.

But Holocaust education in Moldova is about to improve. Earlier this month, the country’s Ministry of Education signed an agreement of cooperation with the Jewish community, committing to teach the Holocaust “as the ultimate form of genocide.” The July 14 agreement also stipulates that the Ministry of Education will develop new training programs for educators to help them address this difficult subject in school.

Read the full article here.

Israel and Kazakhstan’s Futurist Vision for Eurasia

By Michael Tanchum

Jerusalem Post, August 7, 2017

Israel and its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors find themselves in a new geopolitical reality as the Atlantic Order ceases to be the predominant framework in which the region’s relations are conducted. With the weakening bloc led by the United States and its European allies ceding ground in the region to an emerging Eurasian order led by China and Russia, Eastern Mediterranean nations could benefit from examining how Kazakhstan attempts to constructively influence the developing economic and strategic contours of the new Eurasia.

Spanning the western border of China and the eastern borders of European Russia and the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan – like the Eastern Mediterranean – forms a vital geo-economic link between Europe and Asia. However, in contrast to the Eastern Mediterranean nations, a central feature of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is the consistent promotion of a futurist vision for Eurasia based on consensus-building, multi-lateral cooperation and sustainable development. To this end, Kazakhstan has hosted four major international events in 2017 – The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, Expo 2017, the Astana Economic Forum and the Eurasian Media Forum.

Read the full article here.

Uzbek Authorities Say Visa Reform to Simplify Travel Abroad

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 8, 2017

Uzbekistan’s government says its plan to abandon a requirement for Uzbek citizens to seek the authorities’ permission to leave the country will make it much easier for them to travel abroad.

In an August 8 statement, the Foreign Ministry said that a draft presidential decree on the abolition of exit visas is being reviewed by government agencies.

The proposal is one of a number of initiatives that appear aimed at opening up the country under President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who was elected after the death of longtime autocrat Islam Karimov last year.

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.