WASHINGTON, D.C. April 8, 2016
TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dutch voters rejected the European Union’s Association Agreement with Ukraine in a referendum this week. Only a third of all Dutch voters went to the polls, but those who voted were overwhelmingly against the deal. The referendum is non-binding, but is likely to intensify disagreements among EU members on the block’s enlargement, and have ramifications for Ukraine’s future. The update includes several stories that analyze these repercussions.
A new Institute for Modern Judaism (IMJ) has recently opened in Moscow under the auspices of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and Potsdam University’s Abraham Geiger College rabbinical seminary. The IMJ offers Russian Jewish students a four-year degree program in “Art and Humanities with a specialization in Jewish Theology,” with the opportunity to continue studies at Potsdam University in Germany. Last week, representatives from major Jewish organizations in Moscow gathered at the Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism to celebrate the unveiling of the Institute.
Another successful Limmud FSU was held over the weekend in New Jersey. Limmud’s highlights included a tribute to former World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, a session honoring Russian Jewish Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a photo exhibit celebrating Golda Meir, and video messages from Israeli President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
I want to highlight an interesting story in this week’s update trip about a recent rabbinic mission by UJA-Federation of New York to Moscow.
A Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Petrozavodsk, in northwestern Russia this week. According to media reports, vandals painted swastikas on the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery. We are consulting with the local community leaders in Petrozavodsk about the incident.
The Kremlin has announced creation of a National Guard to fight terrorism and organized crime in Russia. Analysts are concerned that the new law enforcement agency could be used to stifle dissent and suppress civil society in Russia.
The conflict in the Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh dangerously flared up this week, killing dozens. While a cease-fire has been reached, skirmishes between the two sides continue, threatening an escalation that could impact the broader region. The update includes two interesting articles on Nagorno-Karabakh by Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Brenda Shaffer and Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Thomas De Waal.
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. April 8, 2016
Russian Jewish cemetery vandalized with swastikas
Israel National News, April 7, 2016
According to local media reports, vandals spray-painted swastikas on many tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Petrozavodsk, Russia.
Dmitry Zwiebel, a community leader from the northwestern Russian city, announced that he would submit a formal complaint to law enforcement agencies.
"Such acts have not happened in Petrozavodsk for several years. We thought that such behavior is a thing of the past, it turns out we were wrong," said Zwiebel.
Two weeks ago, vandals painted anti-Semitic profanities on the gravesite of the father of the Musar movement, Rabbi Israel Salanter, in the Russian city of Kaliningrad.
Limmud FSU’s Impact is ‘Extremely Important’
Jewocity, Aptil 4, 2016
PARSIPANNY, N.J., April 2 – Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon and other dignitaries gathered here last night with more than 1,000 Russian-speaking Jews to open the Limmud FSU New York conference, which featured the first-ever exhibition in the U.S. about Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky.
The sold-out Limmud FSU New York, taking place at the Sheraton Parsippany April 1-3, is a dynamic, volunteer-driven and pluralistic Jewish festival of culture, creativity and learning. Danon praised Limmud FSU for the impact it has made on more than 35,000 Russian-speaking Jews around the world since launching in 2006.
“What Limmud FSU is doing to bring Russian-speaking Jews closer to Israel and the Jewish people is extremely important,” Danon said.
Though Israel faces daily challenges at the UN, he told Limmud FSU participants they should also look to the Jewish state’s role on the world stage for inspiration. “There are many flags with crosses, and many flags with crescents, but there is only one flag with the Magen David (Star of David), and we should be very proud,” he said.
Opening the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow
WUPJ Newsletter, April 7, 2016
On March 30th 2016, a remarkable event took place at the Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism the debut of the new Institute for Modern Judaism in the presence of forty guests who came from major Jewish organizations across the city.
The initiative to establish the Institute began two years ago under the auspices and supervision of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) and its main partner in this venture, Abraham Geiger Kolleg; other partners include Potsdam University and Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH). At the launch event Anne Brenker, Chancellor of Geiger Kolleg, and Rabbi Edward van Voolen, Vocational Director, represented the Kolleg.
Among the speakers were Prof. Irina Scherban, Chair of the Russian Progressive Communities, who spoke about the importance of the program for the entire Russian-speaking Jewish community and gave it her blessing; Dr. Alex Kagan, Director of FSU Operations for the World Union, who presented the program, relaying a universal message not limiting the program to the Reform Movement, but rather welcoming the Jewish community at large. He requested that other Jewish organizations increase cooperation as much as possible in recruiting potential candidates; Dr. Anne Brenker and Rabbi Edward van Voolen spoke about Abraham Geiger Kolleg, describing the program and its academic processes.
Russia To Deliver First S-300 Missiles To Iran 'Within Days'
RFE/RL, April 6, 2016
Russia says it will begin the first shipment of its S-300 air-defense missile systems to Iran in the coming days, Russian news agencies reported.
"I don't know if this will happen today, but they will be shipped," Russian Foreign Ministry official Zamir Kabulov told Interfax on April 5.
Moscow and Tehran signed a contract for the delivery of five battalion sets of S-300 PMU1 air-defense missile systems in 2007. But the deal was canceled in 2010 after the UN Security Council passed a resolution prohibiting the sale of heavy weaponry to Iran.
The deal was revived last year after Iran reached a nuclear agreement with world powers, which Russia maintains lifted the ban on sales of S-300s.
Read the full article here.
U.S. May Expand Russia Sanctions After Examining Panama Papers
The Moscow Times, April 7, 2016
U.S. authorities will examine documents leaked in the Panama Papers scandal to gather information on individuals who may be helping Russia to bypass sanctions, the Bloomberg news agency reported Thursday.
It is expected that the Treasury will present an expanded sanctions list in June, when the European Union will discuss the latest sanction extensions against Russia.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions Peter Harrell told Bloomberg that the Panama Papers will help the Treasury Department to gather a base of evidence on the violations brought in relation to Russian sanctions.
"Clearly this trove of documents has the potential to give the Office of Foreign Assets Control a number of leads and to help build the evidence to support new [additions to the list],” Harrell said, Bloomberg reported.Read the full article here.
Ukraine: Conflict Brings Hunger Crisis
By Rick Gladstone
New York Times, April 4, 2016
The two-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine has left about 1.5 million people hungry, including nearly 300,000 in need of immediate help, the World Food Program, the main anti-hunger humanitarian agency of the United Nations, said on Monday. “As the conflict continues, we need to reach these people urgently,” the agency’s representative in Ukraine, Giancarlo Stopponi, said in a statement.
The numbers of hungry Ukrainians have multiplied since the agency first intervened late in 2014 to help feed people upended in the conflict, distributing emergency rations and cash. Ukraine was historically known as Europe’s breadbasket for its rich soil and agricultural output. As of the first quarter of 2016, Ukraine is the only country in Europe to require and receive assistance from the World Food Program.
Read the full article here.
Romania accuses Israelis of threatening, hacking official’s email
JTA, April 6, 2016
Romania issued a warrant for the arrest of a Belgian Jew whom they said had spied with Israelis on an anti-fraud official for a firm once headed by an ex-Mossad chief.
Justice Ministry prosecutors in Bucharest this week signed the warrant for the arrest of David Geclowicz, according to a report published Tuesday on the blog Rise Project. The warrant said Geclowicz had illegally spied on Laura Kovesi Codruţa, a prosecutor of Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate.
Geclowicz, according to the warrant, worked for Black Cube, an Israeli firm founded in 2010 whose honorary chair was Meir Dagan, the one-time director of Israel’s spy agency who died last month. Geclowicz, 24, has been arrested along with another employee, Ron Weiner, according to Rise Project.
Russia's Putin reorganizes security bodies to establish National Guard
DW, April 6, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday reshuffled several security units under the authority of the interior ministry, effectively creating a "new federal executive government body" aimed at safeguarding national security.
"We are creating a national guard, which will fight terrorism and organized crime and, in close contact with the interior ministry, will continue to perform functions that were previously performed by Special Purpose Police units, Special Rapid Response units and so on," Putin said in a statement.
The National Guard will "participate, together with Russia's internal affairs bodies, in enforcement of public order, maintenance of public security and emergency rule, participate in the fight against international terrorism and ensuring the legal regime of counterterrorism operations, (and) participate in the fight against terrorism," said the president's decree.Read the full article here.
Solve the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Before It Explodes
By Thomas De Waal
New York times, April 7, 2016
For almost three decades, the most dangerous unresolved conflict in wider Europe has lain in the mountains of the South Caucasus, in a small territory known as Nagorno-Karabakh. In the late 1980s, the region confounded the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In the early 1990s, the conflict there created more than a million refugees and killed around 20,000 people. In 1994, after Armenia defeated Azerbaijan in a fight over the territory, the two countries signed a truce — but no peace agreement.
Nagorno-Karabakh erupted again last weekend. It seems one of the players — most likely Azerbaijan — decided to change the facts on the ground. Dozens of soldiers from both sides were killed before a cease-fire was proclaimed on Tuesday. It could fall apart at any moment. The situation is volatile, and there is a danger that the conflict could escalate further unless the international community stops it.
Fighting in the Caucasus: Implications for the Wider Region Policy
By Brenda Shaffer
Policy Watch, April 7, 2016
As Moscow continues its pattern of fomenting conflict and carving up countries in its near-abroad, the United States and regional players such as Iran, Israel, and Turkey will once again feel the ripples.
This week, mediators will reportedly attempt to defuse the recent outbreak of intense conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Whether or not the fragile, uncertain ceasefire lasts, the implications of the fighting go far beyond the damage to homes and lives in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conflict zone lies at the epicenter of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, directly affecting both Moscow's regional ambitions and U.S. policy and standing in the greater Caspian region. If the hostilities continue to widen, they could also create threats for neighboring Turkey and Iran, and also for Israel's activity in the region and closer to home.
Dutch Voters Reject European Union Pact With Ukraine
RFE/RL, April 7, 2016
The Dutch government says it may have to reconsider ratifying a treaty establishing closer European Union ties with Ukraine after a strong majority of voters rejected an Association Agreement in a nonbinding referendum.
Dutch broadcasters NOS and RTL reported that turnout for the referendum among the Netherlands' 13 million voters was 32.2 percent -- above the 30 percent minimum level that makes the vote valid -- with all of the votes having been counted and reported by municipalities to the national news agency ANP's election service.
Official results will not be known until April 12. The preliminary results show that among those who voted, 61.1 percent rejected the pact with Ukraine and 38.1 percent supported it, according to the ANP count.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he was waiting for the Dutch government's conclusions on the referendum.
The implications of Dutch vote to reject Ukraine-EU pact
Kyiv Post, April 7, 2016
I think it is all too easy to dismiss the Dutch referendum rejecting the AA/DCFTA (Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Act) with Ukraine as meaningless and insignificant given that the Dutch government are not obliged to abide by the result and not ratify the AA/DCFTA.
Others might argue that the vote was also hardly representative with just 32% bothering to turn up and vote.
And, finally, European Union officials have indicated that even if the Dutch fail to ratify, the AA/DCFTA remains in force.
But already the Dutch government have made clear that they will abide by the result - all Western governments these days are much more mindful of being seen to listen to the "will of the people" through democratic elections.
Analysis: Choice of Jewish PM undercuts long-held accusations of state anti-Semitism in Ukraine
By Sam Sokol
Jerusalem Post, April 5, 2016
Read the full article here.
A prominent Jewish politician in Ukraine has been tapped to replace the embattled and increasingly unpopular Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, a move that does much to undercut persistent Russian propaganda over the past several years aimed at painting Kiev as being ruled by a junta of Nazis and fascists.
Late last month, President Petro Poroshenko announced that he was considered parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Groysman to take the job as part of a far-ranging government shakeup that this week saw him dismiss Prosecutor- General Viktor Shokin and enter into a new coalition with the People’s Front and Batkivshchyna parties.
The West Is Enabling Graft in Ukraine
By Oliver Bullough
New York Times, April 7, 2016
Here in Ukraine, one revelation from the Panama Papers has attracted more attention than any other: In August 2014, when Ukrainian soldiers were trapped under artillery bombardments during the battle of Ilovaisk, President Petro Poroshenko, a candy magnate, was setting up a corporate vehicle in the British Virgin Islands. While young men were dying to defend Ukraine, their commander-in-chief was looking for ways to deny Ukraine taxes from his own business empire.
But the Mossack Fonseca files have an even bigger story to tell: Generations of Ukrainian politicians, dating back to the earliest days of independence, have kept assets offshore. In 1998 — around the time some of the soldiers killed in Ilovaisk were probably starting school — the company was already suspected of arranging the affairs of Ukrainian politicians.
In 2006, a court in California sentenced Pavlo Lazarenko, Ukraine’s prime minister in 1996-97, to nine years in prison for misusing his post to extort tens of millions of dollars from Ukrainians. By the time he was released in 2012, hundreds of millions of dollars more had been stolen from Ukraine.
Putin Says Panama Papers Part Of Western Plot To Destabilize Russia
RFE/RL, April 7, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin mocked the massive leak of financial and legal documents known as the Panama Papers that reportedly implicate several people close to him, saying the project was part of a Western government campaign to destabilize Russia.
In his first remarks since news organizations on April 3 began publishing articles based on the leak, Putin denied having any links to offshore accounts detailed in the trove of materials revealing vast networks of shell companies, some apparently being used to hide sizable wealth.
"Our opponents are above all concerned by the unity and consolidation of the Russian nation, our multinational Russian people," he told an April 7 forum for local and regional journalists in St. Petersburg. "They are attempting to rock us from within, to make us more obedient."
Among the names reportedly appearing in the documents is that of cellist Sergei Roldugin, an old friend of Putin's and reportedly a godfather to one of his daughters. Media reports on the Panama Papers have said Roldugin holds hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore assets.
Moscow Jews Could Teach Us About Joyful Judaism
By Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
NY Jewish Week, April 4, 2016
Last week I found myself sitting in a hip, subterranean Jewish bar listening to a dynamic young man who founded a successful, international Jewish arts festival. He apologized that his voice was a little weak—not because of an early-spring cold, but because he had just undergone brit milah.
I wasn’t in the East Village or Williamsburg. I was in Moscow. Like so many of his Russian Jewish peers, the young man only realized in his later teen years that both his parents are Jewish. Recently married and contemplating starting a family, his circumcision affirmed his strong Jewish identity.
I grew up in the 1980s, stirred by the plight of persecuted Soviet Jews. When the Iron Curtain fell, we celebrated, shelving our refusenik pairing bracelets and rolling up our posters. After bringing the majority of Jews to Israel and North America, we felt that our job was done. I never expected to witness a Jewish cultural renaissance in Russia. But now having just returned from Moscow, I realize that we still have a lot of work to do, not in ending persecution, but in sharing our identities and love for Judaism.
Read the full article here.
Russia and U.S. Near De Facto Alliance in Syria
By Henry Meyer
Bloomberg, April 6, 2016
Fighters allied with the U.S. and Russia, long on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, are both zeroing in on Islamic State’s center of gravity.
After routing the self-declared caliphate in the ancient city of Palmyra March 27 with the help of Russian air power, the Syrian army’s next major objective is cutting off the terror group’s main supply route between Iraq and Syria. Kurdish-led forces backed by the U.S. are also getting closer to ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, raising the possibility of a pincer movement that would bring the U.S. and Russia into a de facto alliance. That would have the effect of bolstering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power, analysts say.
As the U.S. and Russia step up efforts to complete a peace deal to follow a partial cease-fire they brokered in February, their interests are converging in fighting the radical Islamist group even amid American reluctance to legitimize Assad. A successful campaign could prove critical for Europe as it grapples for a solution to rising terrorist attacks and the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Vladimir Putin and Russia’s balance sheet
By Kathrin Hille
Financial Times, April 7, 2016
In the grip of its longest recession in 20 years, Russians seem resigned to the loss of the growth and prosperity they had come to see as the hallmark of President Vladimir Putin’s rule. Although few are seeing their lives unravel as completely as Yaroslav, many fear a return of an era they had hoped to have left behind: the decade of recession, economic shocks and poverty that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“Russians have come to highly appreciate the social wellbeing achieved since 2000, and therefore it will be extremely painful to let that go. Now that we’ve had two years of crisis there’s no prospect of growth, people [are] reminded of the 1990s,” says Tatyana Maleva, director of the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Ranepa for short.
“We are forced to acknowledge that the social consequences of this crisis will be like the 1990s because we are looking at an extended, lingering, grinding stagnation,” she says.
Striking a bargain
Economic growth had slowed sharply even before nosediving crude oil prices and the impact of western sanctions, imposed over its role in the war in Ukraine, hit Russia in 2014. Even if the recession ends next year, growth is unlikely to be much more than flat after years of shrinking investment and falling household incomes.
Read the full article here.
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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.