Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. July 8, 2016

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

Please see below for the Weekly Update.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. July 8, 2016

Putin Signs Repressive Anti-Terror Legislation Into Law
The Moscow Times, July 7, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a raft of controversial anti-terror legislation, the Kremlin announced Thursday.

The laws include increasing government powers of surveillance, strengthening the punishment for inciting or justifying terrorism online and increasing the number of crimes with which children between the ages of 14 and 17 can be charged.

Both businesses and human rights groups have spoken out against the laws, with Russian Internet giant Yandex claiming that they will lead to the “excessive limitation of the rights of companies and users.”

Read the full article here.
Ahead Of NATO Summit, Kerry Says U.S. Will Remain Firm On Russia Sanctions
RFE/RL, July 7, 2016

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has reassured Ukraine that sanctions against Russia will remain in place unless Moscow fulfills its obligations under the Minsk agreement reached last year, and announced additional humanitarian aid for Kyiv.

Kerry spoke at a joint news conference in Kyiv with Petro Poroshenko on July 7, a day before NATO leaders meet in Warsaw for a crucial summit to which the Ukrainian president has also been invited.

Kerry and Poroshenko discussed progress toward implantation of the Minsk deal, which is aimed to end the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists that has killed more than 9,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. It began shortly after Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

He also announced that the United States will provide nearly $23 million in additional humanitarian aid to help people affected by the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

On July 5, Kerry visited Georgia, where he signed an agreement to boost U.S. military cooperation. Georgia's NATO aspirations were a chief catalyst for the five-day war in 2008 in which Russian forces drove deep into the South Caucasus country.

Read the full article here.
Readout of the President’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia
The White House, July 6, 2016

President Obama spoke today by phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to discuss President Putin’s June 20 meeting with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Serzh Sargsian of Armenia regarding the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  President Obama expressed his readiness to intensify efforts together with Russia and with France, as co-Chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group, to achieve a comprehensive settlement to the conflict.
The Presidents confirmed their commitment to defeating ISIL and the Nusrah Front, al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria.  President Obama also stressed the necessity for progress on a genuine political transition to end the conflict in Syria, as well as sustained humanitarian access, and expressed his support for the efforts of UN Special Representative for Syria Staffan de Mistura to make progress on those efforts.
On Ukraine, President Obama urged President Putin to take steps to end the significant uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressed the urgent importance of moving forward with full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Read the full article here.
Readout of Vice President Biden’s Call with President Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia
The White House, July 6, 2016

Vice President Biden spoke today with President Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia.

The Vice President underscored the unshakable U.S. commitment to the security of the Baltic states and the importance of the U.S-Latvia bilateral relationship.  The leaders pledged to work closely together to ensure regional security and prosperity.  

During the call, the Vice President accepted the invitation of President Vejonis to visit Latvia later this summer.

Read the full article here.
Latvians commemorate Holocaust victims
Reuters, July 5, 2016

Latvia commemorated victims of the Holocaust on Monday, the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Riga Choral Synagogue on July 4, 1941, which burned down with dozens still inside.

Persecution of Latvia's Jews began immediately after Nazi Germany invaded the country in June 1941. Historians estimate that 70,000 or 90% of Latvian Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Another 20,000 Jews brought from other Nazi-occupied territories were also killed in Latvia.

"The Holocaust - the catastrophe for the Jewish people is also a part of history of Latvia, our land and our nation. Today, here, at the former location of the Choral Synagogue, we commemorate all fellow human beings, who were persecuted and killed only because they were Jewish," Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said during the ceremony.

Read the full article here.
Reaching out to Muslims, Netanyahu plans Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan trips
By Raphael Ahren
Times of Israel, July 5, 2016

NAIROBI, Kenya – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to visit Kazakhstan and possibly Azerbaijan this winter, he said Tuesday, as he looks to extend a series of overtures aimed at expanding Israel’s diplomatic reach.

Netanyahu announced his travel plans during a briefing with Israeli reporters accompanying him on his current four-country tour in eastern Africa.

During the briefing, he laid out his plan to create new alliances around the globe in a bid to strengthen Jerusalem’s position in the conflict with the Palestinians.

He said the trip would take place in the winter but did not give exact dates.

In 2009, then-president Shimon Peres went to both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, becoming the first Israeli head of state to visit these countries since Jerusalem established diplomatic relations with them.

Read the full article here.
Chabad leader in Russia slams state-funded TV for airing ‘blood libel’
JTA, July 1, 2016

A Chabad-Lubavitch leader condemned a state-funded channel’s airing of Palestinian allegations that an Israeli rabbi approved the poisoning of Palestinian wells.

Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said the RT network’s June 27 report on the issue repeated unfounded allegations reminiscent of the medieval “blood libel” against Jews.

The RT report referred to recent reports in Arab and Muslim media which claimed that a West Bank rabbi issued an “advisory opinion” allowing Jewish settlers to poison Palestinian water. A version of the story previously appeared in the state-run Turkish press agency Anadolu, credited to a Palestinian reporter in Ramallah. Neither the rabbi in the story nor the organization he is described as representing appears to exist.

Media items like the RT report, Boroda also said, “are extremely harmful for Russia, because every such report becomes a contribution to the arsenal of her opponents, claiming that the situation in the field of minority rights and the attitude towards them in the country has worsened.”

Read the full article here.
How Elie Wiesel inspired the Free Soviet Jewry movement
By Glenn Richter
JTA, July 3, 2016

On my bookshelves there are two rows of volumes on the Soviet Jewry movement. Squeezed in among the tomes is a small, well-worn paperback with pages no longer attached to the spine, “The Jews of Silence,” by Elie Wiesel. This slim volume is, however, a bridge. It crossed Wiesel and his readers over from his prior works, hearing the screams of those silenced in the Holocaust, to an eloquent challenge in 1966 to listen to the cry of our silenced but living oppressed brethren in the USSR.

In 1986, 21 years after his first visit, he returned to the USSR. Despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s lockdown on immigration to Israel that year, Wiesel witnessed the miraculous rebirth of Jewish self-identification among refuseniks and thousands of ordinary young Jews who flocked to Moscow’s Arkipova Street Synagogue on Simchat Torah. Gal Beckerman recounted in “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone” that Wiesel told the congregation inside, “Not a day passes when I don’t talk of you, dream of you, sing of you, pray for you. You give us so much hope throughout the world. We owe you a thousand times more than you owe us.”

Soviet Jews responded in kind. Former refusenik Sasha Smukler, echoing the words of his friend Yuli Kosharovsky: “He inspired us to become Jews again.”

Absolutely nothing can bring back the Six Million. Yet when 3 million of our brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union were threatened with spiritual annihilation, postwar Jewry finally stepped forward, their march begun, as Natan Sharansky often recalls, by “students and housewives,” inspired by Elie Wiesel.

“Yehi zichro mevorach” – may his memory be for us a blessing.

Read the full article here.
Marking 70th anniversary of Jewish massacre, Polish president slams anti-Semitism
JTA, July 4, 2016

The president of Poland strongly condemned anti-Semitism and all forms of racism and xenophobia in leading the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of a massacre of Jews after World War II.

Andrzej Sebastian Duda spoke Monday in the southeastern town of Kielce, where communist police and a mob killed 42 — nearly all Jews — on July 4, 1946.

“In a free, sovereign and independent Poland, there is no room for any form of prejudice, for racism, for xenophobia, for anti-Semitism,” Duda said, according to remarks carried by the Polish news agency PAP, The Associated Press reported.

In recent months, Duda has strongly condemned anti-Semitism and xenophobia several times after sending mixed messages on matters of prejudice since the election last year that brought his coalition to power, AP reported.

Read the full article here.
Polish party leader receives anti-Semitic death threat
JTA, July 6, 2016

A Polish lawmaker from a political party with a strong anti-racism agenda said her party leader received a handwritten, anti-Semitic death threat whose author signed it “Sniper.”

The note, which is presumably addressed to the leader of the Modern Party, Ryszard Petru, read: “A bird that shits over its nest needs to be shot. Time unknown, Jewish son of a bitch. Sniper.”

“Poland has a problem with hate speech and this is visible in soccer matches, but not only there,” said Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths group, which promotes Holocaust commemorations in Poland. “Prosecutors often do nothing about it.”

Read the full article here.
Poland Drifts in the Wrong Direction
By The Editorial Board
New York Times, July 6, 2016

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s governing party, is urging NATO to show Russia that the alliance is strong and united when it holds its summit meeting in Poland this week. Yet he shows no interest in heeding the allies’ warnings about his own government’s authoritarian drift.

NATO does need to demonstrate strength and unity to Russia, especially now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has thrown Europe into disarray. The plan to strengthen NATO’s presence in Poland and the Baltic States that is to be announced at the meeting is essential to counter Vladimir Putin’s aggressive anti-Western displays. And that makes it imperative that President Obama lead other NATO leaders in Warsaw in making Mr. Kaczynski understand that behaving increasingly like a Putin clone does not make for a convincing show of unity.

Such behavior has also created strains with the United States. But when Senators John McCain, Richard Durbin and Benjamin Cardin wrote to Warsaw in February expressing concern, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz was dismissive: “People who were only building their country in the 18th century are telling us what democracy is,” he told a security conference in March.

The Polish government must be told that and more: that the alliance whose protection they demand is not only about defending territory, but, perhaps more important, about defending shared values.

Read the full article here.
A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream: Voices of the Hattan and Kallah Ring out in Ukraine
By Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow
eJewishPhilanthropy, July 1, 2016

In the summer of 1998, I was blessed to witness a pivotal moment in Jewish history in the Former Soviet Union. I was present at the first Conservative wedding in the independent Ukraine, one of the first traditional huppot in the post-Soviet period. Tomorrow night (Motzei-Shabbat– July 2) I am scheduled to travel to the Ukraine for my ninth visit, God willing.

I will be heading to the Ramah-Ukraine Family Camp in Cherkassy (central Ukraine), which runs this year from July 7-13. Since 2004 this inter-generational camp has provided a unique Jewish family experience for hundreds of children, parents and their grandparents, sponsored by Midreshet Yerushalayim, a program of the Schechter Institute, and by Masorti Olami.

There remains today in Ukraine a pintele yid, a “Jewish spark,” as Jews and those with Jewish blood continue to surface and seek nourishment. The voice of the Hattan and the Kallah resound again in the cities of the Carpathians and the streets of Kiev. What remains to be seen in historical retrospect is whether we are riding on a wave of a true revival of spirit or merely a final breath for a once flourishing Jewish community.

Read the full article here.
Moscow Avenue in Kyiv renamed after controversial Stepan Bandera
UA Today, July 7, 2016

Moscow Avenue in Kyiv has been renamed after controversial historical figure Stepan Bandera. The decision was approved on July 7 by 87 out of 97 deputies of the Kyiv city council, according to UNIAN.

Stepan Bandera was a political activist and a leader of Ukrainian nationalist and independence movement during the first half of the 20th century.

Bandera is honored among many Ukrainians, who say he fought for the country's freedom from the Soviet Union. He is also considered a hero among local nationalist groups, including the Right Sector.

Read the full article here.
Belarus Cuts Zeroes off Its Currency Amid Economic Woes
Associated Press, July 1, 2016

Belarus has redenominated its currency, cutting four zeroes off its face value, as the country struggles with recession.

Friday's redenomination is the third since the nation of 10 million became independent after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The Belarusian ruble, which had traded at 20,000 to the dollar before the move, now stands at 2 rubles a dollar.

Most Belarusians met the news without enthusiasm. Igor Trofimchuk, a 46-year-old engineer, said it "definitely didn't make us richer." Retiree Tatiana Protasova, 73, said it wouldn't hide a steady rise in consumer prices.
Belarus's economy, which depends on neighboring Russia for cheap energy and subsidies, shrank 4 percent last year.

Read the full article here.
The Baltics’ tangled geography that has both sides feeling surrounded
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post, July 5, 2016

Here in the Baltics, a region mostly encircled by Russia and its allies, many fear they could do little to stop a Kremlin invasion. And a growing number of officials are saying that small probes of Baltic security may have already begun.

The anxiety comes amid the biggest military buildup between East and West since the Cold War. Russia has shipped nuclear-capable missiles to its bristling Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, and it has bolstered its conventional forces on the other side of the Baltics. Western military allies, meanwhile, have upped their presence in the area and plan to convene in Warsaw for a summit this week to deploy thousands more troops to the region. Officials say they are trying to dissuade any Russian temptation to test their willingness to defend the former Eastern bloc nations.

Read the full article here.
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