Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 15, 2019

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

On March 31st, Ukraine will hold the first round of its 2019 Presidential Election. Ukrainian actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who played a history teacher turned president in a hit television show, is the current frontrunner with twenty-five points according to recent polls. Current President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Tymoshenko are both trailing Zelenskiy with 15 points each. If no single candidate achieves a majority of votes in the first round, a second round will be held on April 21.

In Eastern Ukraine, journalist Semyon Dovzhlk has chronicled the current state of the Jewish community in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk. Once home to 15,000 Jews, the conflict in the region has forced many to flee. Of the 3,000 Jews who remain, may are elderly or without means to emigrate. Despite these conditions, the synagogue remains active and the Jewish school continues to function.  

Earlier this week, a new Holocaust museum opened in North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje. The museum features unique displays and exhibits, including hundreds of suitcases hanging from the ceiling and a train wagon similar to the one used to transport Jews to their deaths. Almost all of the country’s 8,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Funding for the museum was made available through the restitution paid by the government to the local Jewish community in 2000. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and current President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace William Burns has written an extensive survey of the breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations.  A career diplomat, Burns was present in the Soviet Union with Secretary James Baker during its collapse and then later as Ambassador from 2005 to 2008. He provides key, personal insight into how the U.S.-Russian relationship has declined so precipitously in the last decade. 

On Sunday, I attended our member agency American Zionist Movement’s (AZM) Biennial Assembly. At the event, AZM honored its past presidents and chairmen for their accomplishments. 

Today, NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I joined several other Jewish organizations at the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee for a meeting with Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister and National Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism Georg Georgiev and Bulgarian Ambassador to the United States Tihomir Stoytchev. 

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ CEO Mark Levin (left) with NCSEJ Executive Committee member and American Zionist Movement Honoree William Hess (right) at the American Zionist Movement's Biennial Assembly. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Claire Gevint)
Washington, D.C. March 15, 2019

We Soviet Jews Lived Through State-Sponsored Anti-Zionism. We Know How It Is Weaponized
By Izabella Tabarovsky
Forward, March 07, 2019

The Soviet Union went down in history as a country of state-sponsored anti-Semitism. But I often think that it would be more accurate to call it a country of state-sponsored anti-Zionism.

It was under the banner of anti-Zionism that Soviet anti-Semitism blossomed.

The Soviet anti-Zionist campaign I personally experienced began in 1967 and lasted essentially through the end of the empire. In that time, hundreds of books and thousands of articles were published painting Zionism as a racist ideology. Anti-Zionist caricatures using classic anti-Semitic imagery peppered the pages of Soviet newspapers. They equated Zionism with Nazism, fascism, American imperialism, German militarism, and apartheid. They compared Zionism to the Ku Klux Klan. The “Zionist” of those cartoons was easily recognizable as a stereotypical Jew of the Nazi propaganda.

But the Soviet anti-Zionism began much earlier than that. It began in the late 1940s, when Joseph Stalin, who initially supported the establishment of the state of Israel, realized that it was not going to be the vanguard of socialist revolution in the Middle East and instead was joining the “imperialist” camp.

Million-Dollar Holocaust Museum Opens in Macedonia 
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, March 11 2019

The capital of this Balkan nation of 2 million people saw the dedication of a multimillion-dollar Holocaust museum that has been called one of the finest institutions of its kind.

Macedonia, a landlocked country north of Greece, had a Jewish population of about 8,000 before the Holocaust, “and more than 98 percent of them were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,” Michael Berenbaum, a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s research institute, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

That’s part of the reason that an institution of the magnitude of the new museum, which according to Macedonian media cost $23 million to build, is “appropriate” in Skopje, he said.

Polish President to ‘Post’: Israel Started the Crisis and It Needs to End It
By Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post, March 15, 2019

Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that Netanyahu never said “The Poles” but just “Poles,” meaning that he was referring to some, but not all.

A month after a crisis erupted between Israel and Poland over Polish history of the Holocaust, Polish President Andrzej Duda outlined a path on Thursday for how it can be resolved, saying that the first move must be made by Israel. 

“The side that started the crisis should also finish it,” Duda told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview at the Presidential Palace. Asked if that would be Israel, he said: “Yes. I expect friendship and respect. On both sides.”

A Jewish Comedian Is the Front-Runner in Ukraine’s Presidential Vote
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, March 13, 2019

Ukraine’s presidential elections is shaping up to be a case of life imitating art.

The leading candidate in the March 31 vote is Volodymyr Zelensky, a Ukrainian-Jewish comedian who portrays a history teacher turned president in his hit television show “Servant of the People.”

Polls conducted throughout February give Zelensky 25 percent of the vote — a 10-point lead over incumbent Petro Poroshenko and political veteran Yulia Timoshenko.

On television, Zelensky’s unlikely presidential candidacy nonetheless carries him into office thanks to popular resentment to corruption and ineptitude of the government and political establishment.

Purim and the First Anti-Semite—A Study Guide for Deborah Lipstadt’s Anti-Semitism: Here and Now  
By Dr. Erica Brown
E Jewish Philanthropy, March 13, 2019

Every Purim as we celebrate the victory of the Jewish underdog in exile, we are reminded of antisemitism’s most ancient roots. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, enemies of the Jews killed for “rational” reasons. Pharaoh worried that the meteoric population increase of the Jews in Egypt would create a fifth column. Israelites at risk in their desert wanderings were regarded as a military threat. Even when Amalek attacked the young and the elderly, theirs was a detestable strategy but one used in a state of war. Elie Wiesel once asked a perplexing question: “Which is worse: killing with hate or killing without hate?” Enter Haman. Haman might have the dubious honorific of being the first recorded antisemite. He was the first to kill Jews simply because he hated them, a hate that was deep and irrational.

In addition to all the revelry, the Book of Esther reminds us to take time to reflect on the phenomenon of antisemitism and note its pernicious origins and its stubborn constancy. This year, to aid us in this reflection, Deborah Lipstadt’s new bestselling book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, frames antisemitism (her spelling – and explained in the book) as an outgrowth of prejudice: “Prejudice is the act of negatively prejudging or assessing someone’s personal character and behaviors based on stereotypical beliefs about the racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, political, or geographic group to which she belongs.” Lipstadt, in accessible language, contends that the antisemitism of Haman’s variety is not a thing of the past but is, tragically, here and now. To enhance Lipstadt’s reading, The Covenant Foundation supported the creation of a study and teaching guide to the book that contains chapter-by-chapter questions, an interview with the author, case studies and interactive exercises to enrich and personalize the reading experience.

As Ukraine’s Presidential Race Heats Up, Politics Shift Right
By Greg Wilpert, Interviewing Tarik Cyril Amar
The Real News, March 13, 2019

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
A popular Ukrainian TV comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is the frontrunner in Ukraine’s presidential race. On TV he plays an honest president who outsmarts corrupt lawmakers and businessmen. Now he aims to play the same role in real life.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: People identify with me because I’m open. I get hurt. I get angry. I get upset. I do not hide my emotions on camera. I do not try to look different. If I’m inexperienced in something, I’m inexperienced. If I don’t know something, I honestly admit it.

GREG WILPERT: The two other main candidates in the race are incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and the longtime opposition leader and former prime minister Julia Tymoshenko. The first round of the presidential election is scheduled to take place on March 31.

In Europe, the Boycott Israel Movement Is Weaker than You Think
By Cnaan Liphshiv
JTA, March 14, 2019

To the world’s oldest Zionist organization, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement “could within just a few years become a real existential threat” to Israel.

The vision of Theodor Herzl, who founded the World Zionist Organization 122 years ago, “could collapse before our eyes,” reads the warning on the group’s website.

The alarmist tone is characteristic of how many Israel supporters, including some of its leaders, view the international movement promoting a blanket boycott worldwide on all things Israeli. Beginning in 2005, the BDS movement has set out to isolate Israel the way apartheid South Africa was made a pariah in the 1980s.

But 15 years later, there is ample evidence to suggest that BDS not only has failed in delegitimizing Israel in any meaningful way, but is now struggling to defend its own legitimacy throughout Europe, the United States and beyond.

Read the full article here.

The Jews of Donetsk Still Living in the Midst of Ukraine’s Ongoing Armed Conflict
By Semyon Dovzhlk
The Jewish Chronicle, March 11, 2019

Before the war came, the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk was home to a thriving community of 15,000 Jews.

This was a place where organisations like Chabad, Israel’s Jewish Agency and the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), among others, were all active.

But when pro-Russian militants, backed by the Russian army, took control of the city and other parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014, Donetsk became a war zone, a site of constant artillery shelling and heavy fighting.

Led by Donetsk’s rabbi Pinchas Vishedski, the community organised the evaculation of young families to western parts of the country.

First Modern Textbook on Rare Jewish Language Juhuri Published in Russian-Israeli Partnership
Meduza, March 12, 2019

On March 11, the STMEGI Foundation announced that the first ever Russian-language textbook for learners of the Judeo-Persian language Juhuri has been published by the Sholumi Center for the preservation of Mountain Jewish culture. The textbook’s publication was much anticipated in the Juhuro community and reflects a growing international interest in Russia’s minority languages.

Juhuro, known as gorskie yevrei (Mountain Jews) in Russian, have long kept a unique set of cultural traditions alive in times of change. After being forced to settle in Persia during the initial Jewish diaspora as early as the 8th century B.C.E., the ancestors of today’s Juhuro are thought to have migrated to the Caucasus Mountains in the 5th - 7th centuries C.E., if not earlier. In recent decades, another wave of migration has swept through the community, and active centers of Juhuro life are now based on multiple continents in Azerbaijan, Russia’s Northern Caucasian regions, the United States, and Israel. Recent efforts to preserve the community’s traditions and its language, Juhuri, have brought those cultural centers together, resulting in new publications like the Sholumi Center’s textbook.

How the U.S.-Russia Relationship Went Bad
By William J. Burns
The Atlantic, April 2019 Issue

The old caucasus spa town of Kislovodsk was in terminal decline, much like the Soviet Union itself. It was late April 1991, and Secretary of State James Baker and those of us in his bone-tired delegation had just arrived from Damascus. We stumbled around in the evening gloom to find our rooms in the official guesthouse, long past its glory days as a haven for the Communist Party elite. My room was lit by a single overhead bulb. The handle on the toilet came off when I tried to flush it, and what trickled out of the faucet had the same sulfurous smell and reddish tint as the mineral waters for which the town was famous.

I walked down to Baker’s suite to deliver a briefing memo for his meeting the next day with the Soviet foreign minister. The suite was bigger and better lit, with similarly understated decor. Baker smiled wearily and glanced at the paper I handed him. It was covered with notes on all the issues before us: Germany’s peaceful reunification in the fall of 1990, the military triumph over Saddam Hussein little more than a month earlier, the increasingly precarious future of the Soviet Union.

[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.