Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. November 22, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

We wish you and your families very happy Thanksgiving!

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. November 22, 2017

Ukraine Four Years After the Euromaidan

By Kostiantyn Fedorenko

Kennan Institute Focus Ukraine Blog, November 21, 2017

It has been four years since the mass protests in Ukraine, which eventually led to regime change, began. People protested against a foreign policy shift to Russia; they were eventually beaten up by the police. As the violence escalated and protesters did not give up, despite sustaining numerous casualties, Yanukovych fled the country, and the regime fell.

Now, four years later, Ukraine has definitely changed in many ways. There are, however, different takes on whether these changes have been positive, and on their causes. In this article, I look briefly at what happened to Ukraine in the last four years and where the country stands now.

Trump, Putin Discuss Need For Peace in Syria, Ukraine in Phone Call

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 22, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed the need to bring peace to Syria and Ukraine among other matters, the White House said.

Trump's hourlong phone call on November 21 with the Russian president came a day after Putin met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Black Sea resort of Sochi and ahead of a summit on November 22 in the same location with Turkey and Iran on the Syrian conflict.

The White House said Trump and Putin discussed the need to revive UN negotiations "to peacefully resolve the Syrian civil war, end the humanitarian crisis, allow displaced Syrians to return home, and ensure the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens."

Read the full article here.

Assad and Putin Meet, as Russia Pushes to End Syrian War

By Anne Barnard

New York Times, November 21, 2017

Thanking Russia for the military intervention he credited for “saving Syria,” President Bashar al-Assad met with President Vladimir V. Putin amid preparations for new talks aimed at ending the civil war.

Mr. Assad’s visit on Monday to the Russian resort town of Sochi was made public on Tuesday, a day before a summit meeting there for the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia, who have taken an increasingly prominent role in diplomacy with Syria while the United States has put Mr. Assad’s fate on the back burner.

Russian officials have said that their aim is to ensure Mr. Assad’s support for a political process to end a conflict that began more than six years ago. But Mr. Assad has consistently resisted compromise with his Syrian opponents, and doubts remain about how much Russia is willing, or able, to push him to accept significant changes like substantive power sharing or reforms.

Read the full article here.

Preparatory Program for Jews of the Former Soviet Union Goes Online

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, November 19, 2017

For the past year-and-a-half, the Triguboff Institute has provided conversion classes for people making aliya from the former Soviet Union in order to ease the process by helping them get started while they are still in their home countries.

 Now, the institute has taken the project, Maslul, a step further by launching online classes in Ukraine and Russia to expand its reach.

Shalom Norman, director of the Triguboff Institute, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that while those who live in the big cities can attend the face-to-face classes, it’s a long journey for those who live in the peripheries, a situation that’s exacerbated by circumstances such as harsh weather conditions.

“We are talking about huge distances,” explained Alon Lembrtsky, one of the teachers of the online course. “People can’t always leave the home,” he added, giving the example of mothers who need to take care of their children. “In our day, we don’t need to physically get to a place.”

Read the full article here.

Hundreds of Teens Gather in Ukraine for Leadership Conference

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, November 19, 2017

Some 350 Jewish teenagers and young adult leaders from the former Soviet Union gathered in Kharkov, Ukraine, over the weekend at a conference aimed at strengthening Jewish life across the globe.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s fourth annual Active Jewish Teens (AJT) Conference was attended by participants from JDC and BBYO youth networks in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia and Israel. For the first time, American teenagers in BBYO joined as part of JDC and BBYO’s global partnership, which is focused on building a worldwide movement of Jewish young people.

According to the JDC, the annual conference is the largest gathering of Jewish teenagers from the former Soviet Union.

Read the full article here.

George Soros blasts Hungarian government survey of his views on refugees

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 20, 2017

Jewish-American billionaire George Soros blasted the Hungarian government’s national survey about his views on allowing refugees into the country.

Responding to a questionnaire mailed to the European nation’s 8 million eligible voters, the Hungarian-born Soros said in a “Rebuttal” on his website that statements in the document “contain distortions and outright lies that deliberately mislead Hungarians” about his views on migrants and refugees.

Soros said in a detailed op-ed in 2015 that the European Union should be taking in 1 million migrants and refugees a year and sharing the burden of paying for them, something the Hungarian government now calls the “Soros Plan.”

“With Hungary’s health care and education systems in distress and corruption rife, the current government has sought to create an outside enemy to distract citizens,” Soros charges in his response. “The government selected George Soros for this purpose, launching a massive anti-Soros media campaign costing tens of millions of euros in taxpayer money, stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, and employing anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s.”

Read the full article here.

Warsaw slams EU official for calling Polish marchers ‘neo-Nazi’

Times of Israel/Agence France-Presse, November 17, 2017

Poland’s president on Friday slammed remarks by a senior European Parliament member who called the tens of thousands of people at a controversial Polish Independence Day march “fascists” and “neo-Nazis.”

President Andrzej Duda termed “absolutely scandalous” and “inadmissible” the remarks made by European Parliament liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt during a Wednesday debate in the chamber.

Ex-Belgian premier Verhofstadt said that “on Saturday 60,000 fascists marched in the streets of Warsaw –- neo-Nazis, white supremacists.”

 “I’m not talking about Charlottesville in America, I’m talking about Warsaw, Poland, 300 kilometres (186 miles) more or less from (World War II Nazi German death camps) Auschwitz and Birkenau,” he added.

Read the full article here.

Polish prosecutors open racism probe of far-right march

The Associated Press/ABC News, November 20, 2017

Prosecutors in Poland opened an investigation Monday to determine if statements expressed during a march by far-right nationalists in Warsaw this month violated laws against propagating racism.

The march held on Nov. 11, Poland's Independence Day, drew an estimated 60,000 participants. Many marchers carried Poland's national flags, while some had flags with Celtic crosses, a white supremacist symbol, or banners with slogans like "White Europe of brotherly nations."

Warsaw prosecutors spokeswoman Magdalena Sowa said the investigation would focus on whether criminal charges should be brought for the "public propagating of fascism and calls for hatred," offenses punishable by up two years in prison.

The march's organizers and the people who held provocative banners are the focus of the investigation, she said.

Read the full article here.

Polish Jewish leaders, ruling party chief at odds over what they talked about in meeting

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 21, 2017

Leaders of Polish Jewry said they flagged what they termed rising intolerance in their country at a meeting with a ruling party politician, but the party chief denied the subject was broached.

Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Leslaw Piszewski, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, met Friday with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a founder of the Law and Justice party, to discuss various topics, including the “issue of growing intolerance towards various minorities, including the Jews,” Schudrich told JTA on Monday.

But in an interview with the PAP news agency, Kaczynski denied the issue ever came up.

“We talked about the safety of Jewish communities and objects, but there was absolutely no mention of any growing climate of intolerance in Poland,” he was quoted as saying.

Read the full article here.

Eastern Europe’s Dark Past Could Hinder Its Future

By Izabella Tabarovsky

National Interest, November 15, 2017

Ruta Vanagaite, the enfant terrible of Lithuania’s historical memory politics, has done it again: she has gone and cast doubt on yet another national hero in Lithuania by bringing up for public viewing some uncomfortable information about his past. When I caught up with her last Friday, she was in Brussels, fearing that being home in Lithuania might not be safe.

Vanagaite’s specific crime was to question whether the celebrated partisan Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, who Lithuanians honor for his struggle against the Soviet occupation, was an appropriate choice as a symbol for 2018—the year the nation will be celebrating the centennial of its original independence.

Vanagaite’s archival research showed that his story may be less neat than the official narrative suggested: he may not have been tortured in Soviet prisons as the official story claimed and may, in fact, have worked as a KGB informer. She also told me that the Wiesenthal Center believes that his unit may have participated in the murder of Lithuanian Jews during the Holocaust.

[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.