Weekly News Update & New Year's Message
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 29, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

This year, Jewish communities throughout Eurasia have faced significant challenges. The rise of extremist groups across the European continent, threats to the rule of law, public displays of anti-Semitism, and ongoing conflicts in the region have all underscored the need to redouble our efforts to support our fellow Jews.

As we approach the New Year, NCSEJ is ready to help Eurasian Jewish communities confront these challenges head-on. We look forward to a productive and successful 2018, strengthening relationships, building bridges, and furthering our mission of defending and supporting the growth of Jewish life in more than 20 countries under our purview.

I thank you for your support of our organization. Remember that there is still time to donate to our end-of-year Chanukah Appeal. You can submit your donation following this link or send us a check at 1120 20th St NW, Suite 300N, Washington, DC 20036.

I hope you find the articles in our weekly updates informative and helpful in giving you a better understanding of what is happening in the region. To review the issue of extremist political groups, please read the article from JTA in this week's update that highlights this phenomenon in a regional context.

I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy New Year.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. December 29, 2017

2017 was a good year for Europe’s extremists

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 22, 2017

On the surface, at least, Europe has not changed much over the past 12 months.

In fact, when it comes to European politics, this year may appear mild in comparison to 2016, which saw several dramatic and shocking developments, such as Brexit, a refugee resettlement crisis and the terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday.

Across much of the continent in 2017, however, populists were blocked from reaching power by centrist parties.

To the relief of the continent’s estimated 3 million Jews and other minorities with bitter memories of extremism, the European Union certainly saw no upsets of the scale of President Donald Trump’s succession of Barack Obama, or that of the liberal prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, over his conservative predecessor in 2015.

But a closer examination suggests that 2017 nonetheless has been a watershed year for the continent’s far-right and far-left movements. They have had unprecedented successes in a series of elections thanks to discontent, economic anxiety, nationalistic sentiment and xenophobia.

Read the full article here.

Anti-Semitic slogans painted on 3 Jewish buildings in Odessa, Ukraine

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 26, 2017

Unidentified individuals painted anti-Semitic graffiti on three Jewish institutions in the city of Odessa in southern Ukraine.

The graffiti, including the words “toasting the Holocaust” on the gate of Odessa’s Holocaust museum, were discovered Monday. The city’s Brodsky Synagogue had the words: “Jews out, Ukraine for Ukrainians” written on its exterior fence.

An offensive symbol appeared on a gate adjacent to the Beit Grand Jewish Community Center. It and the other two graffiti featured the symbol of the Azov Battalion, a National Guard of Ukraine regiment that was set up after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

Israel urges Ukraine to act after anti-Semitic vandalism in Odessa

Times of Israel, December 27, 2017

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday condemned three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti on Jewish institutions in the city of Odessa in southern Ukraine, and asked Kiev to take “decisive measures” to crack down on these incidents.

The graffiti, including the words “Toasting the Holocaust” on the gate of Odessa’s Holocaust museum, were discovered Monday. The city’s Brodsky Synagogue had the words, “Jews out, Ukraine for Ukrainians,” written on its exterior fence.

An offensive symbol appeared on a gate adjacent to the Beit Grand Jewish Community Center. It and the other two incidents of graffiti at the center featured the symbol of the Azov Battalion, a National Guard of Ukraine regiment that was set up after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

Ukrainian-Canadian community urged to confront WWII past amid controversy over monuments

By Marie Danielle-Smith

National Post, December 23, 2017

They were played up in October, and continued to trickle out through November: amid tweets about tennis, ambassadorial photo-ops and United States politics, Russia’s embassy in Canada posted several comments about Canadian monuments to a Ukrainian independence leader and to soldiers from the Galician Division of Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS.

A military division formed in 1943, the Galician was made up of Ukrainians rallying against Soviet occupiers, whom Nazis were battling. Russian tweets about monuments to the Second World War fighters — “Nazi collaborators,” as the Russians describe them, or Ukrainian freedom fighters, as many in Canada’s Ukrainian community prefer to think of them — have rekindled a longstanding debate over how Ukrainian-Canadians should commemorate their forebears.

Read the full article here.

U.S. supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine reportedly to include Javelins, RPGs

By Anna Yakutenko

Kyiv Post, December 24, 2017

After years of hesitation, U.S. will sell American-made lethal weapons to Ukraine.

President Petro Poroshenko announced the move on Dec. 23, saying that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed the decision during a phone call a day earlier.

The supply of American-made weapons is expected to reinforce Ukraine against Russia and Russian-supported separatists that have been fighting Ukraine’s government forces for control of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas since 2014, in a war that already killed more than 10,000 people.

While the U.S. has supported Ukraine against the aggressor and imposed sanctions on Russia, it never went further than providing military training and allowing private American companies to sell small arms to Ukraine.

Read the full article here.

Court takes sides in a split among Lithuania’s Jews

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 28, 2017

In an unusual move, a Lithuanian court voided the local Jewish community’s April internal elections, challenging the current leadership’s legal authority.

The Dec. 21 ruling by Vilnius District Court, which is the first of its kind in years in Europe, is the latest development in the fight against what many Lithuanian Jews consider a power grab by the community’s president, Faina Kukliansky. It may affect her ability both to continue to represent members of her community and to administer millions of dollars government restitution for the Holocaust.

The ruling by Judge Rima Bražinskienė, which was translated by the site Defending History, was in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Vilnius Jewish Community. It names Kukliansky’s Jewish Community of Lithuania, which is a national umbrella group for all of the country’s Jewish communities, known also as LBZ.

Read the full article here.

Polish official dismissed after construction work disturbs Jewish graves

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 25, 2017

The local conservator in Siemiatycze in eastern Poland was dismissed after construction workers disturbed graves at a Jewish cemetery.

Construction work carried out at the beginning of the month on the grounds adjacent to the Jewish cemetery in Siemiatycze uncovered human remains likely from the cemetery. The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, was indignant, calling it “the worst desacralization of the Jewish cemetery” that he has seen since assuming his post 17 years ago.

Andrzej Nowakowski was dismissed from his position last week at the request of the General Conservator in Warsaw, Magdalena Gawin, who serves as undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

Read the full article here.

Budapest cultural center unlocks local Jewish history

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 25, 2017

Jews in Budapest attended an event inaugurating a museum and research center in a historic Jewish district.

Among those visiting the building earlier this month were the mayor of the 7th district, known as Elizabethtown.

The mayor participated in a candle-lighting ceremony for Hanukkah, which was led by Shlomo Köves, the rabbi of the Chabad-affiliated United Hungarian Israelite Community, or EMIH.

The new building is designed as a model home of a Jewish family in the 19th century. It is slated to be turned into a museum, pending permission from state authorities. For now the center will house temporary exhibitions on the ground level. Not all of its rooms currently are in use.

Read the full article here.

Right and Far-Right: What Does the New Austrian Government Mean for Russia and the EU?

By Stanislav Klimovich

Carnegie Moscow Center, December 28, 2017

It was a year of nail-biter elections for Western Europe. Each vote in 2017 sparked concerns that pro-Russian, far-right forces might come to power. The danger passed in Holland, France, and then Germany. But just when it seemed Europe could finally relax, Austria fell into the trap. Now, its government includes members of the pro-Russian, far-right Freedom Party of Austria.

Observers fear that the Freedom Party will radicalize its new coalition with the center-right Austrian People’s Party. They worry that the Austrian government will close the country’s borders, fraternize with Russia, and drag the political system in the illiberal direction taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. They point to a recent visit to Crimea by several Freedom Party politicians as evidence of these fears coming true.

Jewish Group Pumps $1M. Into Birghright to Boost Participation of Russian Speakers

By Tamara Zieve

Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2017

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress announced Thursday that it will invest $1m. in Birthright Israel, in order to enable hundreds of young men and women from the countries it represents to visit.

The EAJC represents dozens of Jewish communities and organizations in Eastern European and Asian countries.

With its donation, it seeks to include more Russian-speaking Jews in the project, many who will be visiting Israel for the first time on the 10-day program.

Since Birthright Israel was started 17 years ago, more than 45,000 Russian speakers participated in trips here, out of an overall total of 600,000 participants from around the world.

Read the full article here.

2,000 Attend Annual Limmud FSU Conference in Eilat

By Sarah Levi

Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2017

Some 2,000 Russian speakers of all ages attended the annual Limmud FSU conference in Eilat that started Thursday and ended Saturday night.

The conference included interviews on a wide range of topics with Labor Party head Avi Gabbay, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Likud MK Gila Gamliel and, as well as lively performances by musicians Shlomi Saban and Marina Maximilian.

The rest of the weekend was devoted to the mission of Limmud FSU: fostering life-long learning among Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Participants stayed busy from 8 a.m. Friday until 2 a.m. Saturday, taking their choice of literally hundreds of seminars and activities centered on Jewish culture. Most of the events were conducted in Russian, with a few in Hebrew and English.

Read the full article here.

How High Should Hopes Be for Change in Uzbekistan?

By Bruce Pannier

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 25, 2017

December 4 marked one year since Shavkat Mirziyoev was elected Uzbekistan's second president.

He had been Uzbekistan's prime minister since 2003, but when Islam Karimov -- Uzbekistan's first and only president since it gained independence in 1991 -- was pronounced dead on September 2, 2016, Mirziyoev moved into the country's top post despite a constitutional prohibition against the prime minister becoming acting president.

In 15 months, Mirziyoev's actions and statements have raised hopes, inside and outside Uzbekistan that the country would emerge from semi-isolationism and become an active partner in regional and international issues.

It is true that Uzbekistan has made progress since Mirziyoev came to power, but it could also be said he inherited a stagnant country. Any movement would be considered progress.

What has Mirziyoev really accomplished as president? And is there a plan for the future, or is he merely practicing damage control?

Read the full article here.

The rich Jewish heritage of Azerbaijan

By Yunis Abdullayev

Israel National News, December 25, 2017

Azerbaijan has been a silent and favorable home to a Jewish population since the ancient period and nowadays, it still is. Jewish communities continued flourishing in various parts of Azerbaijan for many centuries.

The religious and cultural tradition of ethnic Jews in Azerbaijan is considered a part of the rich legacy of people of Azerbaijan.  The Jews usually functioned as an active ethnic nation that played powerful and considerable role in the political and economic administration. Moreover, they contributed to development of  scientific and technological services in Azerbaijan.

Jews are considered a reliable nation for Muslims in the eastern area of the Caucasus. Muslims and Jews have been living together in kindness and friendship, always trying to respect each other’s religious, cultural and social values. In addition, members of both religious groups are interested in maintaining that friendship. No Jew has seen racial or religious discrimination in Azerbaijan as yet.

[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.