Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 10, 2016

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,
On Tuesday, NCSEJ held a very successful Board of Governors meeting featuring Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State Bridget Brink and Kathleen Kavalec, a panel with Jewish community leaders from Georgia, Moldova and Lithuania, and Hillel’s Director of Global Relations Yasha Moz. Our guests included representatives of member organizations, Jewish Federations, and diplomats from the countries in the Eurasia region. Summaries of all speakers’ remarks will be available shortly on NCSEJ’s website.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Vladimir Putin this week, in his fourth meeting with Russia’s leader this year. During the meeting they discussed Syria, Middle East peace process and strengthening of bilateral relations.

The leaders also signed a bilateral social security agreement. As part of the agreement, Russia will pay $83 million in pensions to former Soviet Union citizens now living in Israel. Payments will be made to the elderly, disabled, and vulnerable groups.

Also this week, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Russia’s continued violations of borders and international agreements in the Eurasia region. Assistant Secretary Nuland said that economic sanctions are Washington’s most powerful leverage over Russia to pressure its leadership to implement the Minsk peace agreement. She strongly advocated the need to extend the sanctions on Russia. The update includes a summary of Assistant Secretary Nuland’s remarks.

Meanwhile, it appears that there are serious cracks in the EU members’ resolve to extend sanctions against Russia. The French Senate voted on Wednesday in support of a non-binding resolution that urges the French government to “gradually and partially” lift the sanctions.

I want to recommend an Atlantic Council article by Josh Cohen included in this week’s update. He details positive early achievements by the new government of Ukraine led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman, and underscores optimism by Ukraine’s civil society about new prime minister and his team.

Another interesting piece is Alina Polyakova’s op-ed about the false narrative to portray modern Ukraine’s as anti-Semitic. She underscores that while traditional anti-Semitism and a difficult historical legacy remain, “Ukraine is far from the anti-Semitic country it was under Soviet rule”.

I also want to highlight a story about a Jewish festival held in Krakow this week, during which the seven synagogues in Krakow’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz were opened to the public. The synagogues hosted a number of exhibits promoting Jewish culture.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Sen. Chris Murphy and NCSEJ Chairman Daniel Rubin
NCSEJ Chairman Daniel Rubin at the NCSEJ June Board of Governors Meeting
Washington, D.C. June 10, 2016

Russia, Iran, Syria Ministers To Discuss Military Cooperation
RFE/RL, June 9, 2016
The defense ministers from Russia, Iran, and Syria are due to meet in Tehran on June 9 for talks on the Syrian conflict.
Russia's Defense Ministry said the ministers -- Sergei Shoigu, Hossein Dehghan, and Fahd Jassem al-Freij -- will discuss ways to enhance their cooperation in fighting the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.
Moscow and Tehran are Damascus’s main international backers, providing the regime with military and financial support.
Russia launched its bombing campaign in Syria in September, significantly improving the position of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Read the full article here.

Russia to Pay to $83M to Israeli Pensioners in 2017
Moscow Times, June 8, 2016
Russia is to pay 5.4 billion rubles ($83 million) in pensions to former Soviet Union citizens now living in Israel in 2017, the Labour Ministry announced in a statement Thursday.
The new policy follows a social security agreement signed during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest visit to Moscow, which began on June 6.
The agreement, which comes into force in 2017, will give former residents of the Soviet Union the right to receive payments from Russian government if they moved to Israel before 1992.
Payments will be made to roughly 100,000 people, including pensioners, disabled people, and other at-risk groups, the Labour Ministry document said.

Following Moscow, a Jewish Quarter to appear in Kaliningrad
Interfax,  June 3, 2016
Kaliningrad will become the second city in Russia after Moscow where the so-called Jewish Quarter appears, the president of the country's Federation of Jewish Communities Alexander Boroda said on Friday, quoted by his press office.
“Up to this day, we saw a kind of a Jewish Quarter only in Moscow, in the vicinity of Marina Roscha where there is a vast complex of buildings of the Jewish community. We are going to create something similar by organization and infrastructure in Kaliningrad,”said Boroda.
He explained that historically this approach is not something innovative: the Jews traditionally settled near the synagogues, and the objects of Jewish infrastructure – schools and kosher shops – always located next to the synagogues.

Thousands of items belonging to Auschwitz victims newly uncovered
JTA, June 7, 2016

The Auschwitz Museum says it has rescued from storage 16,000 personal items belonging to Jews killed at the Nazi death camp.
Museum officials said Tuesday that Poland’s former Communist government stored the items — including empty medicine bottles, shoes, jewelry and watches — and then neglected them, Agence France Press reported.
“In most cases, these are the last personal belongings of the Jews led to death in the gas chambers upon selection at the ramp,” the museum said in a statement.
The items were first discovered in 1967 in the ruins of the camp’s crematorium and gas chamber, then stored — and almost forgotten — in cardboard boxes in a building at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

Read the full article here.

Cemeteries initiative has preserved 70 Eastern European graveyards
JTA, June 9, 2016
A German-funded pilot program for protecting Eastern European Jewish cemeteries has helped preserve at least 70 graveyards since 2015, the effort’s initiators told Council of Europe delegates.
The briefing Wednesday in Strasbourg about the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, or ESJF, came two years after its inception with an initial budget of $1.35 million, Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister of Israel and a member of ESJF’s advisory board, told JTA.
The briefing at the Council of Europe, a body of 47 member states that aims to encourage pan-European cooperation and dialogue, was party intended to help “find more resources for the next steps” and make ESJF into a permanently functioning body with core funding, Beilin said.

 Read the full article here.

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: French Senate Urges Lifting Sanctions Against Kremlin In Sign Of Crumbling EU By Lydia Tomkiw
International Business Times, June 9, 2016
In another sign of crumbling European resolve over Ukraine, the French Senate voted Wednesday to urge its government to gradually dismantle economic sanctions on Russia, a move welcomed by the Kremlin. The vote came as politicians across the European Union have hinted at wanting to reduce sanctions ahead of renewal talks this month.
Passed by a 302-16 vote, the French Senate’s resolution calls for “gradually and partially” lifting sanctions, the Associated Press reported. German officials have also made statements in recent weeks indicating their backing of gradually lifting sanctions as long as progress is shown toward implementing the Minsk peace agreements.
“I consider this decision to be positive,” Sergey Naryshkin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, told the state news agency Tass Thursday. “The resolution is advisory, but the government cannot ignore [the] parliamentarians’ opinion, the more so since France is a state governed by the rule of law. In a law-governed country, it is impossible to defy the opinion of lawmakers.”

Read the full article here.

Hundreds Protest Naming St. Petersburg Bridge After Chechen Leader
RFE/RL, June 7, 2016
Several hundred demonstrators in St. Petersburg have protested against a proposal to name a new bridge after the late Chechen President Akhmad-hadzhi Kadyrov.
Protesters in the city center on June 6 complained that Kadyrov had no connection to Russia's second-largest city.
Kadyrov, father of Chechnya's current Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, died in a bomb attack in 2004. Human rights groups have alleged that both leaders' terms in office were marked by torture, abductions, and extrajudicial executions.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Sends Envoy To Urge Europe To Maintain Russian Sanctions
RFE/RL, June 4, 2016

The United States is dispatching an envoy to Paris and Berlin on June 7 and 8 to try to convince European allies "of the importance of maintaining sanctions pressure on Russia," the U.S. Treasury said on June 3.
The Treasury's Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin will meet with senior government officials from European foreign, financial, and economic ministries, as well as private European banks and financial institutions.

Read the full article here.

A NAFTA-like deal for Israel and Ukraine?
Ukraine Today, June 9, 2016
Israel opens yet another door to Ukraine. After Tel-Aviv established a visa-free regime with Kyiv, Israel became the frontrunner in providing rehabilitation to Ukrainian soldiers injured during the war in the east. This week, Israel and Ukraine added one more agreement of mutual cooperation. Both sides reached a consensus on the partial labour market liberalisation. Under the terms of the deal, Ukrainian construction workers will soon be able to work legally in Israel. They will be given all the choices provided to local specialists, including social benefits from the government and medical insurance.
The applicant selection process will be conducted by both Ukraine and Israel. Thus far the two countries have agreed upon a quota equaling to about a few thousand people. Although the agreement still has to formally be ratified by the Ukrainian Parliament, officials are already contemplating developing the deal further.
"We are starting with the construction worker field, but I hope, in the future we will sign a few more protocols, which will cover other fields as well," Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin said during the signing ceremony on June 7, 2016, according to UNIAN news agency.

Read the full article here.

Georgian and Ukrainian officials push for NATO membership
AP, June 9, 2016

Senior officials from Georgia and Ukraine on Wednesday exhorted Nato members to bring the two nations into the alliance in order to protect them from Russia and cement ties with the West.
Georgia, a small post-Soviet nation in the South Caucasus intensified efforts to join the Western military alliance after it lost control of two breakaway provinces in a 2008 war with Russia.
Ukraine's pro-Western leaders are also pushing for membership after Russia annexed its Crimean peninsula and supported pro-Russian insurgents in a two-year separatist conflict in the east of the country. Russia vehemently opposes both bids as a threat to its security.
Speaking several weeks ahead of a key Nato summit in Warsaw where the alliance will evaluate the two countries' membership prospects, Georgian defence minister Tina Khidasheli said that the United States has a strong interest in helping Georgia join Nato as a way of deterring Russia.

Putin backs ‘just’ solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
By Raphael Ahren
Times of Israel, June 7, 2016
Meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday expressed support for a “comprehensive and just” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Putin backed the two-state solution and Israel’s counter-terrorism efforts.
“We will be partners in the struggle against terrorism,” he said.
Before the press conference, Putin surprised Netanyahu with a private tour of the Kremlin and explained the history of the halls, pointing out some biblical imagery displayed on its walls, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu: US-not Moscow-cornerstone of our foreign relations
By Tavah Lazaroff
Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2016

The US remains Israel’s chief ally and cannot be replaced by Russia, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday before flying home after a two-day visit to Moscow.
“It is not desirable or practical to replace the United States [with Russia]. The US is the cornerstone of our foreign relations,” Netanyahu told reporters.
He had visited Moscow for the third time this year, and had held his fourth face-to-face meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Although the trip was a celebration of 25 years of diplomatic ties, it fueled speculation that Israel is seeking to grow closer to Moscow and to distance itself from Washington, particularly in light of Netanyahu’s contentious relationship with President Barack Obama, with whom he has met only once in the past year.
But Netanyahu said that the idea that his frequent trips to Russia were part of a plan to replace Washington with Moscow is “nonsense.”

Nuland: Russia Feeling 'Pain' Of U.S. Sanctions
By Mike Eckel
RFE/RL, June 8, 2016
A top U.S. official says economic sanctions continue to be the most powerful leverage Washington has over Russia, and that those measures have thwarted potential Russian efforts to seize larger swaths of Ukrainian territory, including the capital.
Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, also told lawmakers on June 7 that Moscow remained in violation or "out of compliance with" some major arms-control treaties, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF.
Coming just weeks before an important NATO summit in Warsaw, Nuland's comments before a Senate committee gave some indication of what that summit's agenda will include, with Russian military maneuvers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East likely to take center stage.
That summit will be preceded by a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels, where officials are expected to renew sanctions against Russia that were imposed alongside analogous U.S. measures following Moscow's forcible annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014.

Read the full article here.

Civil Society Gives Ukraine’s New Prime Minister Positive Marks
By Josh Cohen
Atlantic Council, June 7, 2016
During almost eight weeks in office, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman has inspired largely negative reactions from Western analysts. Noting Groisman’s close relationship with President Petro Poroshenko, observers fret the young prime minister will merely function as a yes-man. His appointment was variously described as “same old, same old,” “not the best choice,” and an indication that the new government “is likely to be less reformist and competent.”
While there are legitimate reasons to question the wisdom of Groisman’s appointment, one important group does not share that pessimism: civil society activists with the greatest stake in the success of Ukraine’s reforms.
“While there have been some questions about Groisman from the international community, based on his previous history the possibility for him to push reforms forward is very real, so overall we are cautiously optimistic,” said Olena Halushka, international relations manager at the Reanimation Package of Reforms, on June 6.
According to Inna Borzylo, chief executive officer of the nongovernmental organization Centre UA, less than a week after his appointment, Groisman initiated a meeting with twenty civil society experts to discuss his plans for reforms.

Ukraine Struggles to Shake Off Legacy of Corruption
By Andrew Kramer
New York Times, June 6, 2016
The text message to Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade was as unwelcome as it was unexpected. The sender, a stranger, wrote that he wanted to be the new deputy minister.
The minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania, had joined the government amid promises by the new Western-backed leaders to clean up the country’s corrupt economy. Having no need or desire for a deputy, particularly someone he knew nothing about, Mr. Abromavicius tried to brush off the applicant.
“We don’t have the possibility to create a new position,” he wrote back.
“I think they will make one,” the man replied in another message, this one saved on the phone and released after Mr. Abromavicius resigned, in part over this exchange.
“I got this offer from the team of Petro Oleksiyovych,” the man wrote, referring to the country’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko. “Who specifically?” the minister asked.

Read the full article here.

In Krakow, Night of the Synagogues bolsters Jewish pride
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
JTA, June 6, 2016
For the sixth year in a row, the seven synagogues in Krakow’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz, opened their doors for 7@Nite – or the Night of the Synagogues, a one-night mini-festival aimed at bolstering Jewish pride and promoting Jewish awareness among the public.
Each synagogue – from the Gothic Old Synagogue, now a Jewish historical museum, to the ornate 19th century Tempel Synagogue, used for both services and cultural events – hosted an exhibit, concert, film or other event illustrating contemporary Jewish culture in Poland and around the world.
“The most important message is that this is an open event, carried out by Jews — for everybody,” said Karina Sokolowska, the Poland director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Organized by the JDC, the Krakow Jewish Community Center and the Krakow Jewish Religious Community, 7@Nite first took place in 2011.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine Defies Anti-Semitic Stereotypes
By Alina Polyakova
Atlantic Council, June 7, 2016
Confronting a difficult history is no easy matter, particularly in Ukraine—a country caught between murderous regimes throughout the twentieth century. In his book Bloodlands, Yale historian Timothy Snyder places Ukraine at the center of a region where more than 14 million “non-combatants” were ruthlessly killed by the competing geopolitical goals of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin between 1933 and 1945. This dark period in Ukrainian history included the Holodmor—Stalin’s manufactured famine of 1932-33—in addition to World War II and the Holocaust. Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, and others living in what is now modern day Ukraine suffered unimaginable pain and loss.
Soviet historians went to great measures to whitewash the Soviet regime’s role in these mass murders, especially the Holodomor, which was erased from history books. World War II (or the Great Patriotic War as it is still known in Ukraine and Russia today) became the founding myth of the Soviet regime alongside the Bolshevik revolution, memorialized in museums, public holidays, parades, monuments, school books, and oral histories across the Soviet Union. In this historical narrative, the Soviet Union, which lost over 20 million people in the war, was the ultimate victor, defender of freedom, protector of the Jews and all peoples, and destroyer of fascism.

Read the full article here.

Slovakia's youth flirt with fascism. A failure of education?
By Sara Miller Llana
Christian Science Monitor, June 2, 2016
Roman Balko, a high school teacher in central Slovakia, quit his job last year, but not because he was burnt out from the lessons on civics that he gave for 22 years. He quit because there weren’t enough of them – and he couldn't teach the subject the way he wanted.
He says that on paper, a high school education in Slovakia includes human rights. But in practice, it doesn’t shape attitudes or values. And he blames that for the hold that the far-right has on youths here today.
“If there was more practical education about democracy and about democratic principles, this would help counter extremism,” says Mr. Balko, who in October formed a nongovernmental organization called Teachers for European Union Slovakia (TEUS) to push for better teaching of democracy and European ideals in schools.
The need is clear. In mock elections carried out in February with 6,000 high school students across the country, the extreme right People's Party Our Slovakia (L’SNS) came in second. Catapulted into the national parliament for the first time after March elections with 8 percent of the vote, the party attracted nearly a quarter of first-time voters – becoming the most successful party for those ages 18 to 22.

Abkhaz Leader Agrees To Opposition's Demand For Referendum
By Liz Fuller
RFE/RL, June 9, 2016
Under pressure from opposition forces that have branded his accession to power two years ago illegal and unconstitutional, Raul Khajimba, the de facto president of Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, has scheduled for July 10 a referendum on whether or not to hold an early presidential election. Addressing an invited audience on June 1, Khajimba said that although he considered "harmful" the use of a referendum as "an instrument of political struggle," he had agreed to the opposition's demand in the interest of "consolidating society and preserving stability."
Khajimba was elected de facto president in August 2014 in an early vote precipitated by the forced resignation three months earlier of incumbent Aleksandr Ankvab. Abkhazia's opposition parties, in the first instance the Amtsakhara (Keep the Home Fires Burning) union of veterans of the 1992-93 war that culminated in the region's de facto independence from Georgia, have steadily intensified their criticism of Khajimba since early last year. They accuse him of failing to deliver on his preelection pledges to unify a polarized society, form a government of national unity, launch constitutional and judicial reform, and use the substantial subsidies Abkhazia receives from Russia (7.7 billion rubles, or $113.94 million in 2016) to kick-start economic growth and thereby reduce unemployment, which is estimated at 70 percent. (Russia recognized Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state in August 2008; only a handful of other countries have followed suit.)

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Founded in 1971, NCSEJ 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.