Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. April 15, 2016
 

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

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, Ukraine’s parliament approved a new government headed by Volodymyr Groysman, who will be Ukraine’s first Jewish prime minister. Some analysts believe that the confirmation of Groysman, who is a close ally of President Petro Poroshenko, may signal a healing of the country’s political divisions. However there are also concerns about whether Groysman can successfully challenge Ukraine’s culture of high-level corruption and gain the trust of a growingly disenchanted public. The update includes several articles analyzing the implications of Groysman’s confirmation.
 
The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report, which raised concerns about a worldwide decline in freedom and intensifying efforts by governments and non-state actors to stifle civil society, opposition groups, and independent media. The update includes a RFE/RL story that highlights report’s findings on human rights in the countries of Eurasia.
 
More than 2,000 people gathered in Moscow this week to participate in Limmud FSU’s 10th conference. I had an opportunity to attend and speak at the first Limmud conference in Moscow in 2006. It was thrilling to join over 500 participants then, and heartening to see today how Jewish life in Moscow and the region has grown and flourished. 
 
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews has won the prestigious Annual European Museum of the Year Award. NCSEJ was present at the opening of the POLIN Museum less than two years ago. The Museum’s success is a symbolic testament to the renaissance of Jewish life in Poland.
 
NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss attended a briefing with U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Ira Forman this week.  During the meeting, Forman discussed threats facing Jewish communities worldwide.
 
Please save the date for NCSEJ’s Board of Governors meeting in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 7. We hope you will join us.

Sincerely,
 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. April 15, 2016


Polish Jewish history museum named European Museum of the Year
Taube Philanthropies, April 11, 2016
 
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a signature philanthropic endeavor of San Francisco-based Taube Philanthropies, has won the 39th Annual European Museum of the Year Award. The significant honor was presented by the European Museum Forum at its 2016 Award Ceremony held in San Sebastian, Spain, on April 9. The POLIN Museum placed first from among 49 museums representing 24 countries and a diverse range of themes, including the arts, sciences and history.
 
The POLIN Museum is located in the heart of what was once the throbbing, pre-war Jewish hub of Muranow. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Germans turned the district into the Warsaw Ghetto, incarcerating hundreds of thousands of Jews, who were then deported to the Nazi death camp Treblinka in 1943. 
 


Russia-Occupied Crimea Suspends Council Representing Tatar Minority
RFE/RL, April 13, 2016
 
The chief prosecutor of the Russia-occupied Crimea has ordered the suspension of a council that represents the region’s Tatar ethnic minority.
 
The April 13 order by prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya means that the Tatar council, called the Mejlis, is prohibited from holding public gatherings, using bank accounts, or disseminating information.
 
The suspension is to remain in place until a court in the illegally annexed peninsula rules in a case raised by Poklonskaya aimed at banning the Mejlis outright as an extremist organization.
 
Tatars make up about 15 percent of Crimea’s nearly 2 million people and have broadly opposed Russia’s seizure and annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
 


Uman hotel refuses to rent rooms to Jews, Ukrainian Jewish leader says
JTA, April 14, 2016
 
A hotel in Uman is refusing to rent out rooms to Jews, a leader of Ukraine’s Jewish community said.
 
Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, wrote Thursday on Facebook that an administrator at Uman City Plaza told him the policy was in place because the last time that Jews were allowed to stay at the hotel, it required repairs.
 
Each year around the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Uman sees the arrival of approximately 25,000 Jewish pilgrims from Israel, the United States and Europe. They congregate there for the holiday because it is the final resting place of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century luminary, who is buried in Uman, and who called on his followers to be with him when he was alive on Rosh Hashanah.
 
Dolinsky said he called the hotel, a small establishment with just 17 rooms, because he read an online review by a Jew who was turned away.

 

Over 2,000 Jews to Gather at Largest-Ever Limmud FSU in Moscow Opening this Thursday
Jewocity, April 13, 2016
 
More than 2,000 participants have sold out Limmud FSU’s 10th conference in Moscow, the largest-ever gathering of Russian-speaking Jews in the former Soviet Union. The Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar will give the conference’s keynote address.
 
Limmud FSU Moscow, April 14-17, promises to be the largest and most significant Jewish event in Russia amid the organization’s growing popularity. Limmud FSU Moscow is a cultural, educational, communal, and social experience shaped by the Moscow Jewish community, with support and guidance from Limmud FSU leadership.
 
“The conference’s large number of participants is the best evidence that Jewish life is thriving in Russia,” said Limmud FSU Founder Chaim Chesler and Co-Founder Sandy Cahn. “We are witnessing a new era of Russian Jews that have become completely independent and have defined the framework of Jewish life on their own, and for themselves. Moscow’s Jewish community is proud and here to stay.”


Read the full article here.

Hillel International to launch in Poland
JTA, April 12, 2016
 
Hillel International will launch operations in Poland, the organization serving Jewish college students announced.
 
The opening of Hillel Warsaw is scheduled for April 18, on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A delegation of Hillel International leaders and Jewish dignitaries from around the world will gather in Poland for the event, where a reception will be held for Polish Jewish students.
 
“At Hillel International, our mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students everywhere so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, said in a statement. “Jewish life in Poland has seen a remarkable revitalization in recent years, but that progress can only be sustained if we ensure that young Polish Jews have the community and the resources necessary to thrive.”
 

Read the full article here.

Kyrgyz parliament elects president's ally as prime minister
Reuters, April 13, 2016
 
Kyrgyzstan's parliament elected Sooronbai Zheenbekov, an ally of President Almazbek Atambayev, as prime minister in a unanimous vote on Wednesday, consolidating power in the hands of the Social Democratic party which backs both of them.
 
Having control over the parliament and the government should help the Social Democrats engineer a smooth succession when Atambayev's term in office ends at the end of 2017. He has ruled out running for another term.
 
Unlike its autocratic Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan has a relatively powerful parliament while limiting presidential powers. Two Kyrgyz presidents have been toppled by violent protests.
 

Read the full article here.

Oil Prices Surge After Report Of Russia-Saudi Deal To Freeze Production
RFE/RL, April 12, 2016
 
Oil prices surged to their highest level of 2016 on April 12 after a Russian state news agency report was issued about an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia on freezing their production.
 
The report by Russia’s Interfax news agency on April 12 cited an “informed diplomatic source in Doha” who claimed Moscow and Riyadh have reached a “consensus” on freezing oil production.
 
The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate for delivery in May gained $1.81 per barrel for a close at $42.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the highest closing price since November.



Groysman becomes Ukraine's new prime minister, Parubiy takes over as speaker of parliament
By Olga Rudenko
Kyiv Post, April 14, 2016


Ukraine’s parliament voted on April 14 to appoint Volodymyr Groysman as the country's new prime minister, with 257 lawmakers - 31 votes more than needed -- supporting his candidacy.
 
Groysman, who served as the speaker of parliament since November 2014, replaces Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who spent two years as prime minister.
 
Andriy Parubiy, Yatsenyuk's party member and an active participant of the EuroMaidan Revolution that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power two years ago, took over as speaker. He served as deputy speaker for Groysman. Poroshenko's Bloc lawmaker Iryna Gerashchenko was voted in as the new deputy speaker.
 
Groysman, 38, becomes the youngest prime minister in Ukraine. He is a former mayor of Vinnytsia and a loyalist of President Petro Poroshenko.


Read the full article here.

Jewish Wunderkind Turned Ukrainian Prime Minister - Who Is Vlodymir Groysman?
JTA, April 14, 2016
 
Like many Ukrainian mayors, Vlodymir Groysman used to visit his local synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.
 
But unlike most of them Groysman, the former mayor of Vinnytsia, did not visit the synagogue as a political gesture. He was going in his private capacity as a member of his central Ukraine city’s Jewish community.
 
Groysman’s Jewishness is not very unusual, even for a mayor and senior politician in Ukraine, where 360,000 Jews live. But his openness about it was not customary in a country where anti-Semitism and decades of Communist repression once made it undesirable for politicians to be seen as too Jewish, said the local rabbi, Shaul Horowitz.
 
Last year, his reputation as an honest and effective administrator earned Groysman the title of speaker of the Ukrainian parliament. And this week, he was appointed prime minister by President Petro Poroshenko, make Groysman the first openly Jewish person to hold the country’s second highest post and, at 38, the youngest person to have the job.
 


U.S. limits training in Ukraine to avoid provoking Russia in the region
Jim Michaels,
USA TODAY, April 11, 2016
 
The White House has boosted aid for Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed separatists but limits training to mainly defensive tactics, triggering criticism the policy is too cautious to blunt President Vladimir Putin's aggressive moves in the region.
 
The United States recently turned down Ukraine's request for sniper training for its armed forces because that is considered an offensive skill. The U.S. policy is aimed at teaching defensive skills in order to avoid escalating the conflict.
 
U.S. officials said the distinction between defensive and offensive tactics makes little difference, since the training is focused on building basic soldier skills, which are similar for offensive and defensive operations.
 
As a result, U.S. trainers can teach nearly all the skills needed for small and mid-size combat units despite the focus on defensive operations, commanders say. Skills such as patrolling, for example, are used defensively and offensively.



Netanyahu, Putin to meet in Moscow on Syria, Palestinians
Times of Israel , April 15, 2016
 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, to discuss regional security issues.
 
According to Israel’s Ynet news website, the topics under discussion will include Syria, where Russian troops have been supporting the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad, and the ongoing Israeli conflict with the Palestinians.
 
Israel has also lobbied for Moscow to nix the sale of advanced S-300 air defense systems to Iran, and that issue may be on the agenda as well.
 
Israeli officials said in March that Netanyahu would spend April 21 in the Russian capital, with the situation in Syria at the top of the agenda. Friday is the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, when Netanyahu will likely aim to be back in the country.



Russia’s Vulnerable Side Is at Fore in Putin’s Call-In Show
By Neil MacFarquhar
New York Times, April 14, 2016
 
A somewhat humbled, or at least not swaggering, President Vladimir V. Putin held his annual, live call-in show on Thursday, with his answers to the heavily choreographed calls intended to underscore his concern for the plight of ordinary Russians amid a second, punishing year of recession.
 
Largely gone were the diatribes against opponents like the United States and Turkey. In their place were praise for domestic cheese and fish producers and government efforts to keep prices down for everything.
 
Perhaps the entire 3 hour and 40 minute marathon, the 14th yearly session of the event called “Direct Line,” could best be summed up in the answer to a first grader named Alina. She asked the president whether he thought a Russian woman could become president. Her dad had told her that only a man like Mr. Putin could handle America, she said.
 
“We should not be thinking about how to cope with America, we should think about how to cope with our internal problems, our internal issues,” Mr. Putin answered. “Roads, problems with the public health service, the education system, the development of our economy, economic recovery, problems of setting the pace of growth.”



U.S. Warns Of 'Accelerating' Rights Abuses Worldwide
RFE/RL, April 13, 2016
 
The U.S. State Department says in a new report that the world faces a "global governance crisis" as both governments and nonstate actors increasingly infringe on human rights.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in the State Department's human rights report, released on April 13, that Washington saw "an accelerating trend by both state and nonstate actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes."
 
Kerry also denounced governments for cracking down on freedom of expression by "jailing reporters for writing critical stories" or targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) "for promoting supposedly 'foreign ideologies' such as universal human rights."
 
Kerry said nonstate actors like Islamic State militants and Boko Haram in 2015 committed "crimes against humanity," including genocide.


Read the full article here.

Freedom House: Economic Troubles Threaten Stability In Ex-Soviet 'Dictatorships'
By Antoine Blua
RFE/RL, April 12, 2016
 
In a new report, Freedom House warns that economic woes are threatening the stability of "entrenched dictatorships" in the former Soviet Union, the migration crisis is fueling populism in Eastern Europe, and reforms in the Balkans are in retreat.
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin's "naked embrace of autocracy" deepened in 2015, the U.S.-based human rights group says.
 
Freedom House made the assessments in its annual Nations In Transit report, which monitors the democratic development of 29 countries in the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, and Central Europe. It was published on April 12.
 
The report assigns each country a score to measure democratic progress. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in the 29 countries covered has declined for 12 years in a row.



Weeks after ‘pullout’ from Syria, Russian military is as busy as ever
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post, April 12, 2016
 
Russia portrayed last month’s drawdown from Syria as a victory and a homecoming after a six-month deployment in which its air force turned the tide of the long-running conflict. So it was a surprise when Russian state outlets reported in recent days that powerful new Russian helicopters were seeing Syrian combat for the first time.
 
Even after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sudden March 14 announcement that cut short Russia’s Syrian deployment, officials said they would maintain a muscular presence on twin air and naval bases in coastal Syria. But the current level of activity would suggest that the pullout has been minor at best, despite last month’s fanfare — returning aviators were greeted with bouquets and brass bands, while military officials declared victory — and Russian officials’ insistence that they have withdrawn from Syria.
 
The discrepancy leaves the Kremlin running a large-scale operation in war-torn Syria even as Russia’s powerful state media insists otherwise. The Russian activities on the ground are a sign that the Kremlin has little intention of dialing back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia also does not appear ready to cede space in Syria to other nations involved there, including the United States.
 


Corruption Is The New Communism
By Brian Whitmore
RFE/RL, April 12, 2016
 
Soviet tanks roll into Budapest and Prague.
 
Russian banks set up secretive offshore accounts and shady shell companies that stealthily buy influence and gobble up strategic assets across Europe.
 
Quislings in the East and fellow travelers in the West toe the Leninist line.
 
Business and industrial lobbies in both East and West parrot Putinist talking points.
 
A network of Communist parties and front groups advance Moscow's interests.
 
A web of opaque front corporations, murky energy deals, and complex money-laundering schemes ensnare foreign elites and form a ready-made Kremlin lobby.
 
Past, meet present.
 
In many ways, Russian corruption is the new Soviet Communism. The Kremlin's black cash is the new Red Menace.


Read the full article here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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About NCSEJ
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.
 
 
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