Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 19, 2021
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

In Southeastern Belarus, the local Jewish community center and synagogue were defaced with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. Gomel, and neighboring Babrusk, had large and vibrant Jewish communities before the Nazi invasion in 1941. Today there are a few hundred Jews.

This week saw a strengthening of diplomatic relations between Israel and Kosovo. The Muslim-majority country signed a normalization deal with Israel last September and has now formally opened its Embassy in Jerusalem.

We have included an article describing Russia's attempt to assert control over the internet that you may find of interest.

Finally, this week a senior Ukrainian lecturer at the Lviv Polytechnic National University proposed renaming the city of Uman, "Bandera City" after Stepan Bandera, a Nazi-allied militia leader. We have contacted the Embassy of Ukraine to express our concern.

Shabbat Shalom!
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 19, 2021

Helping out during the pandemic - comment
Andras Heisler
The Jerusalem Post | March 16, 2021

In Hungary, the first lockdown was launched due to the COVID-19 epidemic exactly one year ago. I, as leader of the most important Jewish organization safeguarding Hungarian Jewish religious traditions, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary – MAZSIHISZ, was already in full swing consulting with my colleagues about the tasks of crisis management.

In the new situation we had to solve the meals, social and medical care of several thousand people and also transition into “virus-safe” religious life. We did what we thought was right despite having no prior experience to draw from.

In retrospective, we overcame the difficulties with success. In this fight, the largest international Jewish organizations, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the European Jewish Congress (EJC) were our partners and we also received extraordinary help from the Hungarian government lead by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Ukraine’s president again comes under U.S. pressure — this time, for good reason
The Editorial Board
The Washington Post | March 13, 2021

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, the Ukrainian president whose phone call with President Donald Trump led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, has yet to receive a call from President Biden. But the delay has nothing to do with Mr. Trump’s corrupt attempt to force Mr. Zelensky to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden. Instead, the new U.S. administration is seeking to induce Mr. Zelensky to tackle his own country’s endemic corruption — something that is vital to stabilizing its economy and preserving its fragile independence from Russia.

Mr. Zelensky, a former actor and political neophyte, was elected in 2019 on a promise to take on the oligarchs, dirty judges and mafia networks that have plagued Ukraine since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. But last year he retreated, firing reformers in his cabinet and the central bank president, and stalling on judicial reforms and action against oligarchs. In particular, Mr. Zelensky waffled on taking on Ihor Kolomoisky, the tycoon whose television network propelled him to the presidency.

The backsliding has caused the International Monetary Fund to withhold disbursements on a $5 billion loan deal, without which Ukraine may be unable to make debt payments later this year. It has also troubled Kyiv’s supporters in the United States, which remains Ukraine’s most important ally despite the turmoil introduced into the relationship by Mr. Trump. U.S. military aid has helped deter further aggression against Ukraine by Russia, which invaded and annexed Crimea and still controls a slice of eastern Ukraine.

Third Day of Holocaust Remembrance Proposed
Katarzyna Markusz
The Jewish Exponent | March 18, 2021

WARSAW, Poland  — Jews who were murdered by the Nazis have two days of commemoration devoted to them. Now two Jewish leaders have proposed a third day of Holocaust remembrance — devoted to the Jews who survived.

Jonathan Ornstein, director of the JCC Krakow in Poland, and Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at the American Jewish University, have jointly proposed a new holiday. Holocaust Survivor Day would be celebrated on June 26, the birthday of a prominent Polish survivor and advocate.

The proposal, which Ornstein and Berenbaum hope will catch on among Jews around the world, comes as the number of living survivors is dwindling and after a year in which COVID-19 exacted a steep toll on them.

“We, the next generations, have been privileged to meet these remarkable individuals and have tried to make sure they are taken care of in our family, our synagogues, our community centers,” the two men wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post this month. “But as a society we must ask ourselves one question: Have we done enough?”

Throttling Twitter traffic in Russia Here’s how Moscow’s regulators are doing it and why it’s not really working
Meduza | March 12, 2021

Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor (RKN), announced this week that it’s now throttling local Twitter traffic in response to the network’s refusal to remove certain “illegal content,” supposedly including incitements to suicide, extremist materials, information about narcotics, and even child pornography. RKN says Twitter has flouted its demands since 2017. If the American company doesn’t fall in line, Russia’s regulators have vowed to escalate their “enforcement actions,” up to and including a total block on Twitter access.

Moderators delete content all the time, but they don’t erase everything that RKN flags. According to the company’s latest Transparency Report, Russian state officials filed 8,949 takedown requests in the first half of 2020, but Twitter acted in only about 20 percent of these cases, limiting access to 1,437 tweets inside Russia. Enforcing its own terms of service, Twitter also took unspecified actions against 628 accounts identified by the Russian authorities (possibly removing certain content or blocking the users completely). 
Since 2017, RKN has filed more than 28,000 takedown requests with Twitter. The agency says the company still grants Russian users access to 3,168 materials containing illegal information.

Russia recalls its U.S. ambassador for consultations after Biden comment on Putin
Reuters | March 17, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday called its ambassador to the United States back to Moscow for consultations on the future of U.S.-Russia ties after U.S. President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin would “pay a price” for alleged election meddling.

Biden made his comments after a U.S. intelligence report supported longstanding allegations that Putin was behind Moscow’s election interference in the United States, an accusation Russia called baseless.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had called its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, back to Moscow to discuss the future of Russia’s relationship with the United States.

The move was designed to ensure bilateral ties did not degrade irreparably, it said.

Swastika, SS symbols spray-painted on synagogues in Belarus
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 17, 2021

(JTA) — A swastika and SS bolts were spray-painted on the entrance to a synagogue and Jewish community headquarters in Belarus, where such incidents are very rare.

Members of the Jewish Community of Gomel, a city situated about 200 miles southeast of the capital Minsk, discovered the large symbols earlier this month, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress reported Monday on its website. There are no suspects.

Unlike many other countries in Eastern Europe, the glorification of Nazism and anti-Semitic rhetoric are rare in Belarus, a pro-Russian dictatorship where the Nazis killed more non-Jewish civilians than the 800,000 Jews they murdered in the Holocaust.

Jews made up most of the Gomel population at around the turn of the 20th century, and about a third in 1941, when the Nazis invaded. The Nazis murdered thousands of Gomel Jews during the Holocaust, but many others had escaped into the interior of the Soviet Union and survived the genocide. About 25,000 Jews returned to Gomel after World War II.

Today, the city of about half a million residents has only a few hundred Jews.
Kosovo opens embassy to Israel in Jerusalem 
Zenel Zhinipotoku and Llazar Semini 
The Associated Press Via The Washington Post | March 14, 2021

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it has formally opened its embassy to Israel in the disputed city of Jerusalem.

A statement said the move was made after the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel on Feb. 1 and a Kosovo-Serbia summit held at the White House in September.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora announces that the Kosovo Embassy in the State of Israel, with headquarters in Jerusalem, officially has been opened,” said the statement.

Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed, as the capital of a future state.

Most of the international community doesn’t recognize the Israeli annexation of east Jerusalem and says the competing claims to the city should be resolved through negotiations. Most international embassies are in Tel Aviv.

Merge and Rule: What’s In Store for the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics
Konstantin Skorkin
Carnegie Moscow Center | March 18, 2021

Events in Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas region stopped being front-page news long ago, but the new escalation of Russian-Ukrainian tensions and possibility of renewed hostilities there have pushed the region into the spotlight once again.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (DNR and LNR), which were conceived as temporary entities, have survived and even grown stronger. They have acquired their own political systems and new elites ready to ensure Donbas’s lengthy existence as a Russian protectorate. The doctrine of Donbas having its own “special path” is very likely to come true, even though irredentist ideas are waning there.

The self-proclaimed republics have seen major changes in the seven years since they were established. The “heroic” period of the Donbas elite came to an end in 2018 with the assassination of the DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko. Fervent nationalists were replaced with an alliance of bureaucrats and siloviki (security service officials) that co-opted any surviving figures from the “Russian Spring.”

Ukrainian senior academic proposes to rename city of Uman for Nazi collaborator
Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA | March 12, 2021

(JTA) — A senior lecturer at Ukraine’s oldest and most prestigious state university called on the government to rename the city of Uman for a Nazi collaborator in response to Israel’s complaints about honoring such individuals.

Bohdan Bilinsky, associate professor of Building Structures and Bridges at the 205-year-old Lviv Polytechnic National University, proposed the honor for Stepan Bandera in a Facebook post on Friday, the Focus news site reported. Uman, a major site for Jewish pilgrims, should be called “Bandera City,” he said.

Bilinsky said every Ukrainian city should “name stations, ports and planes after Stepan Bandera,” a nationalist who for a time collaborated with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
“Maybe this evil spirit will stop coming to us,” Bilinsky wrote about criticism of honors to Bandera and other Nazi collaborators.

His proposal follows controversy over the naming this month of a stadium in Ternopil for Roman Shukhevych, another Nazi-allied militia leader.

Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, protested the stadium naming on Twitter. But a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Twitter defended the country “preserving the national memory.” Oleg Nikolenko added this “remains one of the priorities of Ukraine’s state policy.”
Reshaping Belarus’s Political Scene
Grigory Ioffe
The Jamestown Foundation | March 17, 2021

Four recent events have the potential to affect the ongoing evolution of the Belarusian political scene. First, on March 6, the founding congress of the pro-Russian party Soyuz (Union) took place in Minsk with 135 participants. So far, even the government itself does not have a party—something that is going to change soon, as the Party of National Unity is to be created on the basis of the Belaya Rus social movement. Soyuz and its chairperson, Sergei Lushch, position themselves as an opposition faction, favoring tighter Belarusian-Russian integration. At the height of street demonstrations in mid-August, Lushch declared that “the mistake of the Belarusian authorities, who ordered the violent dispersal of the very first protests in Minsk, and skillful moderation of social networks by transnational puppeteers have made the incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka effectively illegitimate. Russia should play a more active role in stabilizing the situation” (Politnavigator, August 15).

At the Soyuz party’s inaugural assembly, criticism of the authorities continued, albeit in a milder form. In the meantime, Lushch has been a frequent commentator on Belarusian TV. Previously, every attempt at the creation of a party for the potentially dominant pro-Russia flank of the Belarusian political scene has been thwarted by Lukashenka, who wanted to remain the sole interlocutor with Russia. Today, however, three other entities could play first fiddle in Belarus’s relations with its powerful eastern neighbor. One is the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Sergei Gaidukevich, whose platform is no different from that of Lukashenka himself. Additionally, there are two proto-party nuclei. One of them is the social movement Soglasie (Consensus), whose most well-known members are its chairperson, Artyom Agafonov, and political activist Elvira Mirsalimova of Vitebsk. The second is Soyuz. The major difference between these affiliations is the degree of their cooptation by the political regime. Thus, in Agafonov’s opinion, Lushch is heading Batska’s (i.e., Lukashenka’s) Russophiles (Politnavigator, March 7), whereas Agafonov’s own stance is more independent.

Latest ‘Lucky Jew’ figurines in Poland: Candles that promise ‘financial success’
Cnaan Lipshiz
The Times of Israel | March 16, 2021

JTA — Even among Jews in Poland, few are shocked at this point by the popular figurines of ultra-Orthodox Jews counting money that are sold in the country as good luck charms.
Yet even locals are pausing to take stock of the latest development on that controversial theme: scented candles that one retailer advertised as “giving a pleasant warm light during combustion.” Also, “The figure of the Jew is believed to be good for financial success.”
The Jewish candle phenomenon came to light earlier this month on a Facebook group called Życie Żydowskie, meaning “Jewish life.”

At least two firms, Beekeeping Łukasiewicz Center and the Łysoń Beekeeping Company, have offered the products online, according to Elżbieta Magenheim, the manager of Życie Żydowskie.

Multiple members of the Facebook group have expressed outrage because the product reminded them of how the Nazis had bodies of Jews burned in crematoria during the Holocaust in occupied Poland.

Both firms removed the products from their online catalog after Jewish.pl, a Polish Jewish news site, published an article Sunday about Magenheim’s discovery. Neither replied to a request for comment by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.