Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 30, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

NCSEJ issued a press release yesterday, calling for local authorities in the Ukrainian city of Lviv to cancel a festival honoring Roman Shukhevych. Recognition of Shukhevych, who collaborated with the Nazis, is unacceptable and must be stopped.

This week, former refusenik and Prisoner of Zion and current Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein became the first Israeli politician to address the upper house of Russian parliament, in a historic visit to Moscow. Edelstein was born in Soviet Ukraine, later moving to Moscow. A long-time Jewish activist in the USSR, he was imprisoned in Siberian labor camps from 1984-1987 for teaching Hebrew, the very language in which he delivered part of his address on Wednesday. For those like myself who worked to gain Yuli’s freedom along with other refuseniks, we never could have imagined such an event taking place.

Our update this week features two pieces analyzing ultra-nationalism and neo-Nazism in Ukraine and Russia, a disturbing trend we closely monitor.

A cyberattack temporarily crippled many Ukrainian government agencies and companies this week and spread to other parts of Europe and the globe, including Russia, which some sources claim launched the computer virus.

In Romania, a new Prime Minister, Mihai Tudose, has assumed power after the government ousted his predecessor, Sorin Grindeanu, last week.

This week in the European Parliament, a group of over twenty nations and five political groups pledged to increase resources for Holocaust survivors and delivery of restitution.

NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss, who also serves as chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad was in Geneva, Switzerland this week for a plenary meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a member of the U.S. delegation. At the meetings in Geneva, the IHRA delegates are focusing on topics such as supporting the protection and preservation of Holocaust-related sites throughout its Member Countries and beyond, as well as sharing best practices in the field of Holocaust education, research and remembrance.

Here in Washington, Program Associate Benjamin Cohen attended an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reflecting on twenty-five years of relations between the United States and Armenia. For his readout of the event, follow this link.

We wish all of you a happy Fourth of July weekend.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Yuli Edelstein addresses the upper house of Russian parliament this week.
Credit: Aleksandr Bibik/Knesset Spokesman
NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss (second from left) with the U.S. delegation at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance plenary meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
Washington, D.C. June 30, 2017

Former Soviet Jewish Prisoner Yuli Edelstein Returns to Russia as Israel's Knesset Speaker

By Liza Rozovsky

Haaretz, June 28, 2017

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was born in the Soviet Union and imprisoned in a labor camp in the 1980s by Soviet authorities for his Jewish activities, came full circle on Wednesday in Moscow and addressed the upper house of the Russian parliament.

Introduced at his appearance in parliament by the chairwoman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, one of the most powerful politicians in Russia, she noted Edelstein's birth in Ukraine and his studies in Moscow and that he had moved to Israel in 1987. She failed to mention the period that he spent in the labor camp due to his pro-Zionist activities, which included his efforts to teach Hebrew at a time when Soviet authorities were seeking to stamp out expressions of Jewish identity and efforts by Soviet Jews to emigrate.

Read the full article here.

In Russia, Knesset speaker acknowledges tensions on Iran, Syria

By Marissa Newman

The Times of Israel, June 27, 2017

MOSCOW — Meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein acknowledged “tension” over Syria and Iran, as the two parliamentary leaders hailed increasingly friendly ties between Moscow and Jerusalem.

Both Russia and Iran are backing Syrian President Bashar Assad in the ongoing civil war. Despite being allied with Tehran, Moscow coordinates its air space with Israel over Syria when the IDF carries out periodic airstrikes on weapons arms convoys by Lebanese terror group and Iran proxy Hezbollah. Israel has also reportedly sought Russia’s help in preventing Iran from gaining a foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which abuts Israel’s border.

Read the full article here.

For Russians, Stalin is the 'most outstanding' figure in world history, followed by Putin

By Daniel Filipov

Washington Post, June 26, 2017

MOSCOW — More Russians consider Joseph Stalin the “most outstanding person” in world history than any other leader, according to a poll released Monday. Tied for second in the same survey is the man who has done more than anyone to restore the notorious Soviet dictator's reputation, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The poll by the Levada Center asked a representative sample of 1,600 Russians to name the “top 10 most outstanding people of all time and all nations.” It also compiled a list of all 20 names that received more than 6 percent of the vote.

Without prompting, 38 percent named Stalin, followed by Putin at 34 percent, in a tie with Alexander Pushkin, the renowned 19th-century poet often referred to as “the Shakespeare of Russia.”

Read the full article here.

Look, but don't touch: Moscow's Schneerson Collection goes online

By Julie Masis

The Times of Israel, June 27, 2017

MOSCOW — In 1922, a few years before he fled the Soviet Union, the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson petitioned the Russian government to return 35 crates of books they had seized years earlier.

The books had been passed down to his father, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, by his grandfather and had belonged collectively to generations of Lubavitch Hasidim going back to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, who began the collection in the 18th century.

There was an illustrated haggadah, published in 1712 in Amsterdam, its pages stained by wine that was spilled at Passover seders hundreds of years ago. There was a book printed in 1552 in Venice, not long after the printing press was invented, with a handwritten inscription in cursive Hebrew reminiscent of Arabic. There was a Torah from 1631, with comments in Latin, written in pencil by Christian scholars who had studied the Jewish holy book.

The Soviet government did not return the books, and for almost a century they remained on the shelves of the Lenin public library in Moscow. But this month the Russian State Library will finish scanning and putting online the more than 4,500 books in the Schneerson Collection, making them accessible to everyone in the world at the click of a mouse.

Read the full article here.

The man who spread the Limmud vibe worldwide

By Jenni Frazer

Jewish News Online, June 29, 2017

Early encounters with Britain’s 35s — the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry — ultimately led to the creation of Limmud FSU, the decade-old organisation for Russian-speaking Jews both in and from the former Soviet Union.

Limmud FSU’s founder, Chaim Chesler, is a veteran Israeli civil servant who worked in the UK as a shaliach (emissary) in the early 1970s. When he returned to Israel, after studies at Bar-Ilan University he became involved in the Soviet Jewry campaign, becoming executive director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry.

As Chesler tells it, during his time at the council, many of the “big beasts” of Soviet Jewry were freed – Natan Sharansky, Yuli Edelstein, Ida Nudel. “I was lucky to be there when that moment came,” he says.

Read the full article here.

Brothers in arms: Why Russian ultranationalists confronted their own government on the battlefields of Ukraine.

By Leonid Rogozin

CodaStory, June 29, 2017

On a snowy January day in 2016, a small crowd assembled in central Kiev to honor the fight against the far right. The gathering of diehard anti-fascists was commemorating the 2009 murder of the Russian lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who’d defended activists and victims of the Russian military, and the Ukrainian journalist Anastasia Baburova, who’d investigated neo-Nazi gangs.

As they unfurled banners in memory of the pair, a group of young men confronted them. In footage posted online, the men, many of them masked, identify themselves as members of the Azov Civic Corps, a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist movement linked to a regiment fighting Russian-backed rebels in the east.

An unmasked Azov member, sporting a strap-like beard across his chin, begins arguing with the crowd. Like most people in Kiev, he speaks in Russian — but his accent is distinctly Muscovite. He refers to the murdered lawyer as one of the “scumbags” responsible for imprisoning his friends. Someone in the crowd responds: “But is it OK to kill people because of their political views?”

Read the full article here.

Why is Ukraine Afraid of the Internet, But Not Afraid of the SS?

By Sergey Movchan

Political Critique, June 29, 2017

Last month, two significant events related to the de-communisation laws happened in Ukraine. Both of them are very telling. First, on the 4th of May, the Halytsky District Court of Lviv passed its first sentence based on the renewed Article 436-1 of the Criminal Code, regarding “production, distribution of communist, Nazi symbols and propaganda of communist and national-socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes.” The young man accused of posting prohibited content on Facebook pleaded guilty, and as a result of the plea he “got away” with only two and a half years on probation.

The second event was the scandal centred on the column written by the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolynsky, in which he called for prosecution, according to the abovementioned Criminal Code article, of the organizers of the march dedicated to the 74th anniversary of the SS Galicia division. In his reply to Dolynsky, Volodymyr Viatrovych, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, said that he did not see anything illegal in the actions of the organizers of the march or the symbols used. And although these two events are not directly connected, they both provide perfect illustrations of the content and application of the Ukrainian “de-communisation” laws, as well as of the social changes that have happened in the last few years.

Read the full article here.

Grave robbers exhume bodies of Holocaust victims from Crimean killing trench

JTA, June 30, 2017

Police in Crimea are investigating the desecration of a mass grave of Holocaust victims near the city of Simferopol.

The investigation opened Tuesday following the unauthorized exhumations performed last week at the site of a firing trench where Nazis and their collaborators killed hundreds of Jews, the Russian TASS news agency reported. Russia annexed the territory from Ukraine in 2014.

Read the full article here.

'Unprecedented' Cyberattack Hits Ukraine, Affects Other Countries

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 27, 2017

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman says his country is suffering an "unprecedented" cyberattack but that "vital systems" are not being affected.

Although Ukraine initially seemed to be the target of the cyberattack on June 27 -- affecting government computer networks and websites of banks, major industrial enterprises, the postal service, Kyiv's international airport, and its subway system -- the attack also hit other countries and international companies around the world.

Read the full article here.

Belarus: Comprehensive survey of Jewish cemeteries announced

Jewish Heritage Europe, June 26, 2017

The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative will launch in early July a three-month project to “comprehensively survey the Jewish cemeteries of Belarus.” Training is currently under way for the teams that will go out in the field.

ESJF said its survey teams will spread out across Belarus, “providing a full mapping of all the Jewish cemeteries in the country and their current state.”

ESJF said it expects that as many as 500 sites will be surveyed, and a full report will be published in the autumn. (The Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus has a list of more than 150 Jewish cemeteries on its web site.)

Read the full article here.

European MPs pledge support for restitution of claims of Holocaust survivors

By Tamara Zieve

The Jerusalem Post, June 26, 2017

European Parliament members from more than 20 EU member states and five European political groups have backed a pledge to increase support for Holocaust survivors and their families seeking the return of stolen and looted WW2 property, the World Jewish Restitution Organization told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Seventy-one MEPs, from across the political spectrum, issued a joint declaration promising to work together on Holocaust-era restitution, and to address the growing welfare needs of survivors, many of whom live in poverty.

Read the full article here.

Love of Israel on display at Krakow Jewish Culture Festival

Jerusalem Post/Reuters, June 28, 2017       

The 27th Jewish Culture Festival held in Krakow's historical Jewish district Kazimierz aims to promote Israel and educate participants on its traditions.

For over a week tourists can ride through Jerusalem streets in a virtual taxi, taste traditional Jewish cuisine and listen to concerts by a number of folk bands.

Every year the festival culminates in a giant open air concert on Szeroka Street, the main street of Kazimierz. After 27 years the festival became a symbol of tolerance, pluralism and celebration of Jewish culture in Poland.

Watch the full video here.

Hungary's Resistance Has a Hip Jewish Address - But For How Long?

By Shaina Shealey

Jewish Daily Forward, June 28, 2017

In America, “the Resistance,” as some call the activist opposition to President Trump, has drawn many Jews to its flag. But in Hungary, the resistance to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing nationalist government includes a specifically Jewish address.

Located on Aurora Street in Budapest’s shabby 8th District, not far from the city’s old Jewish quarter, the Aurora Café is a cooperative community and home to many nongovernmental organizations.

It’s also one of Budapest’s hippest bars and music venues. There are exhibition areas for art, a performance space for music and theater, and a small film theater. Oh, and there’s a Torah upstairs. Young Hungarians gather there for daily prayers and for Kabbalat Shabbat, Friday night get-togethers to welcome the Jewish Sabbath.

Read the full article here.

Mihai Tudose, Once Accused of Plagiarism, is Romania's New Prime Minister

By Palko Karasz

New York Times, June 29, 2017

A little-known former economy minister who surrendered his Ph.D. after plagiarism accusations was confirmed by Parliament on Thursday as Romania’s prime minister, a decision that disappointed reformers.

Mihai Tudose, 50, will succeed Sorin Grindeanu, who was forced out last week as a result of a split in the governing party, the Social Democrats.

The party’s leader, Liviu Dragnea, is widely seen as Romania’s de facto leader, though he is ineligible to be prime minister because of a fraud conviction.

Read the full article here.

Kazakhstan: Allied with Muslim bloc, but great friend of Israel

By Udi Shaham

Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2017

ASTANA – Mutual exchange of technologies, flourishing business connections and warm bilateral diplomatic relations are the main characteristics of Israel and Kazakhstan, said Michael Brodsky, the Israeli ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Commemorating 25 years of diplomatic relations, Brodsky said Kazakhstan is one of Israel’s major friends. In many fields, mainly the economic one, Kazakhstan has a great interest in Israel.

Last December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kazakhstan. During the visit, which was described as positive by both sides, the parties held a joint business forum, which included dozens of participants.

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.