Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 24, 2017

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

NCSEJ hosted two important meetings this week with current and former government officials from Eastern Europe. On Tuesday, we met with Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Galbur, and today, with Bulgarian immediate past president Rosen Plevneliev and Bulgarian Ambassador Tihomir Stoytchev. Discussions ranged from regional concerns, to the new U.S. administration, to relations with the State of Israel.

Federation of Russian Jewish Communities (FEOR) President Aleksandr Boroda has called on Russian authorities to restitute synagogues seized by the Soviet authorities to Jewish communities, mirroring similar calls from Russia’s Orthodox Church and Muslim groups. The intention of Russian law is clear, he said: these properties should be returned. His call has reportedly provoked vitriolic criticism from at least one nationalist web site.

Ira Forman, the former U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism  published an op-ed this week titled “How Our Jewish Organizations Combat Anti-Semitism.” He highlights Jewish communal groups’ efforts to support the U.S. government’s fight against anti-Semitism. NCSEJ, he writes, “was our first and primary source of information in the countries of the former Soviet Union…No one knows the Jewish communal players and government attitudes toward anti-Semitism in this part of the world like NCSEJ.”

As Jewish communities across the world prepare for the Pesach (Passover) holiday, I want to draw your attention to a fascinating JTA article about Bershad, a tiny Jewish community 160 miles south of Ukraine’s capital. Many of Bershad’s Jews survived the Holocaust, and were even able to practice Judaism under Communist rule. The town’s Jewish population is aged, but thanks to international support, is able to celebrate the holiday.

The New York Times reports on the rise of neo-Fascism across Europe, where “turbulent politics have…energized the most extremist right-wing groups, those flirting with or even embracing fascist policies that trace back to World War II.” The article focuses on the troubling rise of hatred in Slovakia. One anti-fascist blogger writes that his opponents “called me a Jew, said that I should die, die, die…They said that people like me would be dealt with in the future.” NCSEJ and many of our member agencies continue to find viable steps to counter this troubling phenomenon.
Lastly, I am sad to report that Dorothy Hirsch, a tireless advocate for the freedom of refusenik scientists, passed away on Sunday. Dorothy was Executive Director Emeritus of the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS). Also, Jackie Bar-On, the husband of Ruth Bar-On (the former director of Israel’s Public Council for Soviet Jews, who now runs a Tel Aviv crisis center for new olim) passed away this month. We will miss them both.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 24, 2017

Ukraine is governed by "people with non-Ukrainian blood", says Savchenko
LB.ua, March 21, 2017

People's deputy Nadiya Savchenko says Ukraine is governed people with "non-Ukrainian blood." During an appearance on NewsOne TV channel on Tuesday, 21 March, Savchenko answered a telephone question from a woman from Krivyy Rih.

Rabbi Lazar urges to legalize circumcision in Russia
Interfax-Religion, March 23, 2017

Chief rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar speaks for legalizing the procedure of circumcision in the country.

According to the rabbi, if there is a clear and comprehensive mechanism of control in this sphere from the side of religious organizations and authorities, "it will settle many questions."

Read the full article here.

Russian Jewish Congress, Footballers' Union Unveil Anti-Racism Project
Sputnik, March 21, 2017

Russian footballer's trade union head Roman Shirokov and Russian Jewish Congress President Yury Kanner signed a cooperation memorandum to implement the project in the presence of the Russian Football Union's anti-racism and anti-discrimination inspector, Alexei Smertin, according to the statement.

Russia's Federation of Jewish Communities Calls for Return of Synagogues Soviets Seized
By Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia, March 21, 2017

Following the path the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s Muslim groups have already entered, Russia’s Jewish community is demanding that the Russian authorities restore to them synagogues that the Soviet state seized from them, a call that is already provoking a negative reaction by some Russians.

Read the full article here.

Russia summons Israeli envoy following IDF strikes in Syria
JTA, March 17, 2017

Russia summoned its ambassador to Israel for clarifications following Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Russia, which backs Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, summoned its envoy, Gary Koren, on Friday less than 24 hours after the Israeli military action on Thursday night, according to The Times of Israel.

Russia must limit Iranian power in Syria: Israeli intelligence director
By Luke Baker
Reuters, March 21, 2017

Russia and other world powers must move to limit Iran's growing military strength in Syria because it poses a regional threat, the director-general of Israel's Intelligence Ministry told Reuters in an interview.

Israeli officials estimate Iran commands at least 25,000 fighters in Syria, including members of its own Revolutionary Guard, Shi'ite militants from Iraq and recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also coordinates the activities of the powerful Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Read the full article here.

How Our Jewish Organizations Combat Anti-Semitism
By Ira Forman
Times of Israel, March 21, 2017

It’s been two months since I left my position at the U.S. State Department as the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism (SEAS). I didn’t come away, after 44 months, with any grand theory on anti-Semitism, nor do I have any silver bullet answers to the problem. I do, however, have a number of strongly held conclusions on the tools we must utilize to combat this evil.

Read the full article here.

Jewish groups urge Congress to preserve anti-Semitism monitor
JTA, March 22, 2017

Jewish defense groups urged Congress to preserve the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor. Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Secure Community Network testified Wednesday before the human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Read the full article here.

Belarus leader accuses Western spies of fomenting protests
AP, March 20, 2017

The president of Belarus says Western intelligence agencies are using a "fifth column" to cause unrest and threaten the stability of his regime.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the former Soviet republic in recent weeks to protest an unpopular labor law, the largest anti-government demonstrations in Belarus for years.

Read the full article here.

Chairman Wicker Highlights Importance of OSCE Mission in Stabilizing Europe
CSCE, March 21, 2017

At a March 21 U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on “U.S. Policy and Strategy in Europe,” Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker underlined his commitment to Ukraine’s future and highlighted the importance of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Read the full article here.

Denis Voronenkov: former Russian MP who fled to Ukraine shot dead in Kiev
By Shaun Walker
Guardian, March 23, 2017

A former Russian MP who had fled to Ukraine was shot dead on a busy street in central Kiev on Thursday. Denis Voronenkov, who had spoken out against Vladimir Putin and Kremlin policies, was shot three times outside the upmarket Premier Palace hotel.

Read the full article here.

Russia Wants Review Of Ukraine's 'Unfair' Decision Barring Eurovision Singer
RFE/RL, March 23, 2017

The Kremlin has called for a review of what it said was Ukraine's "unfair" decision to bar Russia's contestant in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest from entering the country.

"We consider this decision to be very wrong and...we expect that this decision will be reviewed and that the Russian participant will be able to take part in this contest," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on March 23.

Vladimir Putin meets French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in Moscow
By Shaun Walker and Kim Willsher
Guardian, March 24, 2017

Vladimir Putin has received Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin in a surprise move likely to reignite fears in Europe about Russian support for the European far right.

Putin told Le Pen Russia had no intention of meddling in the French presidential elections, according to Russian news agencies, though the meeting is likely to send the opposite message.

Read the full article here.
Preparing for Passover in Ukraine’s last shtetl
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, March 22, 2017

At first glance, this drab town 160 miles south of Kiev seems nearly identical to the settlements that dot the poverty-stricken district of Vinnitsa.

Shrouded in a seemingly permanent cloud of smoke from wood fires — still the standard means of heating here — Bershad, population 13,000, features two rickety bridges over the polluted (and presently frozen) Dokhna River, roads traversed by Soviet-era clunkers and an utter absence of street lights.

Read the full article here.
Ukraine Is Silently Leading A Digital Currency Revolution
By Ben Carnes
Forbes, March 20, 2017

There’s a witticism sometimes used among Ukrainians: “may you be forced to survive only on your official salary.” The quip is both a tongue-in-cheek nod to the endemic corruption that is a daily, often necessary, reality of life in Ukraine and also emblematic of a certain self-effacing, survivalist mentality constituent to the national character. In recent years, the necessity of this “go-it-alone” approach to daily life has led to first-in-the-world technological strides.

Read the full article here.
The Putin Anomaly: In modern European history, Vladimir Putin is the first classically reactionary and even revanchist leader who is not, or at least not yet, an anti-Semite.
By Leon Aron
Mosaic, March 20, 2017

A few years back, at what I was told was a “very closed” meeting in the Kremlin, an unusually expansive Vladimir Putin regaled the gathering with an elaborate anekdot (a joke). The gist, as related to me by a reliable first-hand source, and shorn here of its colorful verbal trimmings, was this: another Great Flood is about to engulf the earth, extinguishing the human race. It will happen within a month, and cannot be forestalled or prevented. To soften the blow, the clergy of every religious denomination have allowed the faithful to break all taboos. Muslims are given leave to drink alcohol, Catholics to indulge every deadly sin from sloth and gluttony to wrath and lust. Rabbis, by contrast, are urging their congregants: “We have a whole month. Jews! We must learn to live under water!”

Read the full article here.
Nationalism the big winner in Bulgarian election
By Angel Krasimirov
Reuters, March 23, 2017

Syrian refugee Fatema Batayhi says she has not left her home for five weeks, not since a hostile crowd confronted her on the main square of this sleepy town in a valley east of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia.

Batayhi, her husband and their youngest son fled the barrel bombs and street fighting of Syria's Aleppo four years ago, eventually joining their eldest son in setting up home eight months ago in the first European Union country they could reach – Bulgaria, via Turkey.

Read the full article here.
Once in the Shadows, Europe’s Neo-Fascists Are Re-emerging
By Rick Lyman
New York Times, March 20, 2017

Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures.

For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament.

Read the full article here.
The Roots of Today's Revival of Russian Judaism Lie Deep in the Soviet Past
By Dovid Margolin
Mosaic, March 23 2017

Seven decades of persevering, clandestine, hazardous activity devoted to the material and spiritual succor of Jews.

I read with great interest Maxim Shrayer’s elegantly composed “The Prospect for Russia’s Jews.” Striking an especially strong chord with me were his memories of growing up as the child of refuseniks in the Soviet Union, since my parents, too, were refuseniks. (Our family finally won permission to leave in 1985.) Elsewhere in his essay, however, Shrayer exhibits a dismaying lack of familiarity with important historical aspects of the Russian Jewish scene, a constraint that colors his analysis of the situation today.

1120 20th Street NW, Ste. 300N Washington, DC 20036-3413
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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.