Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. February 26, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: James Schiller, Chairman;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. February 26, 2021

Annual Report on Antisemitism 
The Russian Jewish Congress 

The downward trend in manifestations of antisemitism in the public sphere has continued: in the official media, manifestations of antisemitism have become rather an exception, and the few notable antisemitic publications posted on the social media sites, as a rule, now cause a negative reaction of the public and the journalistic community. However, the political pressure on Jewish organizations and believers has been continuing.  

Seizing the Opportunity for Lasting Peace Between Armenia and Azerbaijan | Opinion
Elin Suleymanov 
Newsweek | February 26, 2021

The history of international conflicts is regrettably littered with missed opportunities for peace.

Rather than accomplishing its aim of charting a peaceful roadmap for postwar Europe, the February 1945 Yalta Conference paved the way for the Cold War by dividing Germany into four occupation zones administered by U.S., British, French and Soviet forces.

Now, there exists a fresh opportunity to forge a lasting peace and to extinguish a lingering conflict in the South Caucasus region, where processes of normalization and economic integration are underway in the aftermath of last fall's six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Armenia's 30-year-long occupation of territories internationally recognized as Azerbaijan's inflicted enormous suffering on a million Azerbaijani refugees and led to wide-scale destruction in the area. It also led to Armenia's international isolation, external dependency and economic and demographic decline.

Digging documented near privately owned mass grave of Jews in Lithuania
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | February 25, 2021

(JTA) — Construction was documented near a mass grave of Jewish Lithuanian Holocaust victims on privately owned land that the government had promised to reclaim.

Ruta Vanagaite, a well-known author who has written extensively on the Holocaust, earlier this month filmed heavy machinery digging about 100 yards from the monument erected near or on the mass grave of 1,159 victims buried in Veliucionys, east of Vilnius.

In 2017, Vanagaite discovered that the land was privately owned and for sale. She alerted the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for maintaining mass graves and Holocaust sites. The ministry said it would block the sale and take over the land.

However, the land was later sold, and then resold, and is now the scene of extensive earthworks, Vanagaite said she discovered during a tour of the place this month with Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania, Yossi Levy.
Digging in mass graves is illegal in Lithuania, where the government has the authority to confiscate such sites from private owners if they refuse to hand over ownership to the state in exchange for compensation.

​​​​​​​Azerbaijan’s Jews postpone public Purim events in deference to national memorial day
Cnaan Lipshiz

JTA | February 25, 2021

(JTA) — Leaders of the Jewish community of Azerbaijan have postponed public celebrations of Purim because the joyous Jewish holiday coincides this year with a national day of mourning.

This is the first time in many years that Purim falls on the anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre, an atrocity that occurred on Feb. 25, 1992, in which Armenian troops killed 613 Azerbaijanis in the city of Khojaly, according to Rabbi Zamir Isayev, chairman of Georgian Jewish community of Azerbaijan.

“This year, we are observing all the commandments of Purim indoors, but we’ve moved public displays to Feb. 28,” he said.

On Purim, Jews are commanded to drink alcohol, and it is customary to dress up, pull pranks and give out sweets and other gifts.

This “wouldn’t be appropriate on the memorial anniversary of Khojaly,” the rabbi said.

Navalny's Failure To Renounce His Nationalist Past May Be Straining His Support
Matthew Luxmoore
Radio Free Europe | February 25, 2021

MOSCOW -- An assassination attempt made Aleksei Navalny into a globally recognized dissident, a Russian opposition leader whom German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited in his Berlin hospital room and who collaborated with leading Western news outlets in investigating the near-fatal poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

But the man who for more than a decade has challenged President Vladimir Putin and deftly exposed corruption among officials, earning widespread support in Russia and sparking repeated waves of anti-government protests, has also faced criticism in the country and abroad for nationalist comments that he has repeatedly declined to disavow.

On February 23, the prominent NGO Amnesty International withdrew Navalny from its list of "prisoners of conscience," a designation reserved for people imprisoned for who they are or what they believe. Amnesty said Navalny, who is in prison on what he and his supporters call trumped-up charges aimed at silencing him, fell short of its criteria because of past statements the rights watchdog perceived as reaching the "threshold of advocacy of hatred."

Biden says U.S. will hold Russia accountable over Crimea
Reuters | February 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said the United States would stand with Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its aggression against Crimea, according to a statement released by the White House on the anniversary of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula.

“The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia’s aggressive acts. We will continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine,” Biden said.
The Biden administration has said still conducting its foreign policy reviews regarding Russia, China and other key areas after taking the reins from former Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 20.

Biden, a Democrat, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin late last month and pressed him on a range of issues, including Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as Moscow’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. election and the massive cyber hack against the U.S. government last year.

The White House in recent days said it will respond to Russia in coming weeks over the SolarWinds hack.

Read the full article here.

Why Russian Jews are divided over the anti-Putin movement
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | February 23, 2021

(JTA) — Lucy Shteyn is only 24 years old, but she already has firsthand knowledge of what awaits vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin in her native Russia.

In 2018, a year after Shteyn, a Jewish gay rights activist and a prominent opposition activist, was elected to Moscow’s city council, hackers got into her cellphone and computer. They released many of her personal pictures and correspondence online. 

One of the pictures was of a well-known film critic, who is married, sleeping in her bed. Moskovskaya Gazeta, a tabloid that ran the pictures, labeled Shteyn “a hunter of married men” living a life full of “drugs and techno.” On ultranationalist forums, anonymous users called her a “Jewish whore” and posted pictures of Auschwitz with her name as a hashtag.

Why Russia Is Unmoved by Kyiv's Sanctions Against Putin's Friend
Carnegie Moscow Center | February 24, 2021

In the space of just a few days, Russia and Ukraine have escalated their sleepy stalemate in Donbas to the brink of a new war. As the Ukrainian authorities announced sanctions against pro-Russian politicians and media, Moscow responded with harsh criticism and state propagandists called on the government to annex the Donbas separatist republics. The acrimonious exchange immediately resulted in new peaks in the number of ceasefire violations between the Ukrainian army and separatists, fueling fears that Europe’s most volatile conflict may again spiral out of control.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s actions are in sharp contrast with the peacemaker image that he cultivated in the early months of his presidency. On February 2, he closed down three pro-Russian TV channels, accusing their owner of financing Donbas separatists. This was followed on February 19 by a barrage of sanctions against a number of Ukrainian and Russian individuals and companies on the same charges.

The most notorious name on the sanctions list was Viktor Medvedchuk. A veteran of Ukrainian politics, he heads the Opposition Platform–For Life, the country’s leading pro-Russian party. Medvedchuk is also widely believed to be a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his right-hand man in Ukraine for the past two decades.

Head of Georgia’s Main Opposition Party Arrested by Authorities
Giorgi Menabde
The Jamestown Foundation | February 24, 2021

On the evening of February 23, Georgia’s opposition parties launched an open-ended rally on Rustaveli Avenue, where all the important events in the country’s modern history have taken place. The opposition seeks to thwart the latest series of what they regard as anti-democratic actions by the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party (Interpressnews, February 24).

That morning, special units of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, with the support of municipal police, broke into the main office of the United National Movement (UNM) and detained the party’s chairperson, Nikanor Melia. His arrest was accompanied by clashes inside the party headquarters between interior ministry officers and opposition supporters, with several people injured. A little later, GD chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze explained that the authorities’ decision stemmed from the February 17 verdict by the Tbilisi City Court to detain Melia.

Tbilisi City Court Judge Nino Chakhnashvili’s ruling was motivated, she said, by the fact that the opposition politician did not pay in full bail of 70,000 lari ($21,084) for violating the conditions of his first bail, established by a court decision at the end of June 2019 (Civil.ge, February 21) Melia explained his refusal as unwillingness to “pay slavish tribute to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” whose interests, he contended, are “pursued in Georgia by the ruling Georgian Dream party” of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who famously made his fortune in Russia (Tv4.ge, February 10).

Coffin Problems: How Soviet anti-Semitism buried Jewish scientists
Julia Schulman and Michael Hsieh
TabletMag | February 11, 2021

The summer and fall university entrance exams were a rite of passage for Soviet high schoolers who dreamed of careers in the exact sciences. Of these, mathematics reigned with a shining prestige that enthralled the imaginations of the brightest young Soviet students. But for young Soviet Jews, a mathematical career provided more than intellectual esteem; it provided a haven of objective truth in the shadow of an anti-Semitic Soviet regime.

In autobiographical accounts, mathematicians commonly recollect sensing their calling in their early teens. In educational systems like that of the Soviet Union, such timing was not just incidental, but necessary. At that age, a university-bound Soviet student had a clear view of the first major hurdle: the university entrance examination. University admissions for mathematics study in the Soviet universities were highly specialized and required years of preparation. No amount of studying, however, could prepare Jewish applicants for the official discrimination that awaited them.

A successful entrance examination score was the only sure ticket into a top-tier university. The exam contained four sections: written math, oral math, oral physics, and composition. The composition prompt typically focused on humanities (Russian literature or Soviet political theory), while the oral portions were intended to test a student’s ability to use reason and logic. The entrance examinations determined much of a young student’s life trajectory. They were emotionally and psychologically taxing for all applicants. But for Jewish students, they were uniquely painful.