Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 24, 2015

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

Dear Friend,
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko completed a successful two day state visit to Israel yesterday. He met with the Prime Minister, President, and Speaker of the Knesset, as well as addressing the Knesset. In addition, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Netanyahu signed several bilateral agreements.

Most notably during his speech to the Knesset, he publicly apologized for anti-Semitism in Ukraine. The President also announced there will be a state ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. As I noted in an earlier update, NCSEJ has been asked and we accepted the President’s invitation to serve on the Commemorative Commission.

We have included articles about the presidential visit in this week’s update.

On behalf of the NCSEJ leadership and staff, I want to wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice Chairman and CEO
Washington, D.C. December 24, 2015

'Ukraine stands with the State of Israel'
Poroshenko draws commonalities in independence struggles during state visit
Arutz Sheva, December 23, 2015

President Reuven Rivlin hosted an official welcoming ceremony for President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine Tuesday morning, who is on a state visit to Israel.

The Presidents stood together for the national anthems, inspected an honor guard of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and delivered brief media statements before going on to hold a working bilateral meeting.

"In the Ukraine, we remember a long history, a history of one thousand years of Jewish life in the cities and towns of the Ukraine; in Kiev, in Odesa, in Lvov - and even in the imagination of the great Shalom Aleichem, in the little town of Anatevka," Rivlin began.

'Our nations share a history of over 1,000 years'
PM and Speaker highlight similarities between Israel, Ukraine in state visit
Arutz Sheva, December 23, 2015
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a special visit to the Knesset Wednesday, as part of his official state visit to Israel.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) who opened the session, noted in his speech that next year Israel and Ukraine will mark 20 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between them.

Read the full article here. 

On Ukraine President Poroshenko’s first official visit to Israel
By Oleksandr Feldman
Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2015

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko’s recent state visit to Israel was the first since he was elected soon after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. It was also the first time a Ukrainian president spoke before Israel’s Knesset.

For many Ukrainians Israel is an example, of a country, surrounded by aliens, that on bare land has developed an effective state and flourishing economy. Of how to accept and absorb millions of immigrants, how to achieve the highest standards in medicine, science and education. Of how to build a strong army and effective security services. We Ukrainians are in great need of this knowledge and experience.

Ukrainian Jewry have greatly contributed toward the creation of the Jewish state, and continue to do so. Our countries are connected not only officially and diplomatically, but also by hundreds of thousand of unbreakable family ties.

Ukraine’s brawling parliament hopes to learn from Israel’s
By Cnaan Liphshiz
JTA, December 23, 2015

Last week, the Knesset hosted a delegation of senior officials from Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada — a parliament with such severe discipline issues that it descended earlier this month into a fist fight for the second time in two years, after an opposition lawmaker shoved the prime minister.

To address the problem of authority, the Ukrainian delegation, headed by the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, want to adopt the Knesset Guard model, in which the officers are under the command of the speaker, whose authority within the Knesset trumps the members’ immunity.

Read the full article here. 

Netanyahu confronts new Russian realities
Israel has to deal with Moscow ally Iran, Mideast terror
By L. Todd Wood
Washington Times, December 22, 2015

The new reality is that Russia is in the Middle East in a big way and this will not change in the foreseeable future, quite the opposite. Russia and Iran are coordinating efforts in the region and Russia is supplying Iran with multiple new weapon systems including the S-300 anti-aircraft system as well as possibly T-90 tanks to replace the antique and obsolete armor of the Iranian military.  Iran will soon have upwards of $100 billion to spend on weapons and its agenda in the Middle East thanks to the Iranian nuclear deal.

Israel has no choice but to deal with these new realities.  The American military has, for the most part, left the region. Russia and Iran are the new game in town.  

France is Israel’s largest source of aliyah for 2nd straight year
JTA, December 22, 2015

The most dramatic increase in aliyah this year came from Russia, which provided more than 6,000 olim in the first 11 months of 2015 — some 44 percent over the 4,458 who came in the corresponding period last year. In total, slightly more than 5,000 came from Russia last year.

Russian aliyah increased following a financial crisis last year that halved the ruble’s value against the dollar and amid lingering concerns among Russian Jews over rising nationalism and undemocratic practices, according to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Aliyah from Ukraine, which is also suffering from a financial recession following a bloody revolution last year and the secession of two pro-Russian eastern enclaves, increased to 6,848 people this year compared to the 6,149 who came in all of 2014.

Read the full article here. 

Christian-Jewish Aid Group Plans to Double Aliyah Efforts in 2016
JNS, December 17, 2015

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (“The Fellowship”) humanitarian aid group said it plans to double its organizing of immigration to Israel (aliyah) in 2016.

During 2015, aliyah flights initiated by The Fellowship brought more than 2,000 immigrants to Israel from the Ukraine, France, Moldova, North Africa, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, and an unnamed Arab country. Due to the rise of anti-Semitism and violence against Jews worldwide, The Fellowship said it expects to help 4,000 Jews move to Israel this coming year, and that it will increase its aliyah efforts in countries such as Spain and Russia.

Read the full article here. 

Russian PM congratulates Jews on reopening far-east synagogue
JTA, December 18, 2015

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the synagogue of Vladivostok in Russia’s far east shortly after its reopening.

Built in 1916, the synagogue, which is located 350 miles west of Russia’s maritime border with Japan and 9o miles from Russia’s land border with North Korea, was confiscated by communist authorities in 1932 and turned into a candy factory. It was returned to the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia in 2005 and reopened as the port city’s only Jewish house of worship on Friday, the news site Jewish.ru reported.

Read the full article here. 

For Trump and Putin, a bond of power-hungriness, vulgarity and cynicism
Washington Post, December 19, 2015

For Donald Trump, nothing merits respect more than high poll numbers, including his own, which the Republican presidential hopeful equates with strength, intelligence and success. In Mr. Trump's worldview, that simplistic formulation is reason alone to accord deference and esteem to Vladimir Putin - never mind that the Russian president is an autocrat whose popularity at home rests in no small measure on having silenced critics whose views, were they allowed a public airing, might put a crimp in his approval rating.

Putin wraps up 2015: hours of questions, 1,400 journalists & one star
By Bryan MacDonald
RT, December 18, 2015
The 2015 installment of Vladimir Putin's now-traditional end-of-year Q&A lacked some of the sparkle of previous years. However, the Russian President captivated his audience for over three hours and addressed a host of serious issues.

Putin's Q&A has elements of a carnival and pure showbiz. Over 1,400 media professionals from all over Russia and the world straining to get the President's attention.

Read the full article here. 

E.U. extends sanctions against Russia amid a growing split over their future
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post, December 21, 2015

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Monday extended sanctions against Russia for six months, achieving consensus among the bloc’s 28 member nations despite rising divisions over how long to press a major trading partner over its annexation of Crimea and its role in Ukraine’s separatist war.

The decision, given preliminary approval by E.U. leaders last week and due to take effect Tuesday, lengthens until next year a laundry list of economic measures against Russia. In tandem with U.S. sanctions, the effort has contributed to a painful economic slowdown in Russia.

Read the full article here. 

Local Jews in shock after Ukrainian city of Konotop elects neo-Nazi mayor
By Sam Sokol
Jerusalem Post, December 21, 2015

Two months after local elections were held across Ukraine, residents of the small northern city of Konotop are expressing shock and dismay over the behavior of newly chosen Mayor Artem Semenikhin of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party.

According to reports, Semenikhin drives around in a car bearing the number 14/88, a numerological reference to the phrases “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and “Heil Hitler”; replaced the picture of President Petro Poroshenko in his office with a portrait of Ukrainian national leader and Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera; and refused to fly the city’s official flag at the opening meeting of the city council because he objected to the star of David emblazoned on it. The flag also features a Muslim crescent and a cross.

Read the full article here. 

Russia Raids Homes Of Khodorkovsky's Staff
RFE/RL, December 22, 2015

Armed Russian police have raided the offices of a pro-democracy group founded by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky and searched the homes of several of its employees.
The early morning raids come less than two weeks after investigators charged Khodorkovsky with organizing the 1998 contract killing of a Siberian mayor, a charge he denies, and after the former oil tycoon said he hopes for a peaceful "revolution" in Russia.

Read the full article here. 

Kazakhstan, EU Sign Landmark Agreement
By Aiman Turebekova
Astana Times, December 22, 2015

ASTANA - Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini signed a new Kazakhstan-EU agreement on enhanced partnership and cooperation (EPCA) during a Dec. 21 ceremony at the Ukimet Ui (Government House).

“Kazakhstan has become the first of our Central Asian partners to conclude a new generation agreement with the EU,” said EU High Representative Mogherini. “The new agreement will give a significant boost to economic and political ties between the EU and Kazakhstan,” she added.

The agreement places a strong emphasis on democracy and the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and sustainable development as well as civil society cooperation, Mogherini said.

Read the full article here. 

The Azerbaijan Conundrum: Azerbaijan is tolerant of its Jews. But that’s no reason to excuse the despotic, human rights-violating regime in charge.
By Liam Hoare
Tablet, December 16, 2015

Three writers go to Azerbaijan, meet with government officials, and all come back with a glowing impression of the place. Three makes a trend—an unfortunate one at that—despite the fact that, by all accounts, the Jewish community of Azerbaijan is safe and secure, and exists relatively free of anti-Semitism.

Azerbaijan has been in the grip of the corrupt Aliyev crime family for more than two decades. The last election in November, the “worst in recent history,” saw no debate or mass demonstrations, and an opposition boycott. Persecution of dissidents has recently escalated; dozens of human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers have been arrested or imprisoned.

Orthodox Church Receives Majority of Russian Government Grants
Moscow Times, December 21, 2015

The Orthodox Church has been the biggest beneficiary of presidential grants given to non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in Russia over the past several years, a study published Monday revealed.

Among other large recipients of government grants are are pro-Kremlin youth organizations, which received more than 100 million rubles over the same period, the study found out.

Ukrainian Refugees Say Russia Not So Welcoming Anymore
By Svitlana Prokopyeva and Tony Wesolowsky
RFE/RL, December 18, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a point of warmly welcoming Ukrainian refugees in large part to demonstrate Kremlin concern at the plight of Russian speakers, who Moscow claimed were suffering persecution under the new authorities in Ukraine.

But Moscow is in a less generous mood these days, as the Russian economy sags under the weight of depressed global oil prices and international sanctions over Russian actions in Ukraine, including the forced annexation of Crimea and alleged support for armed separatists.

Poland Turns Hard to Right — and Jews Wind Up in Crosshairs
By Donald Snyder
Forward, December 17, 2015

When some 50,000 people turned out in Warsaw recently to protest a plan by Poland’s ruling party to pack the nation’s constitutional court, the hard right-wing political faction responded quickly with a counter-demonstration of its own. Its counter-protest featured, among other things, a placard that mocked those claiming to defend democracy as “the committee to defend Jewish-Communist wealth.”

At around the same time in Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth largest city, crowds at a parallel demonstration to support the recently elected Law and Justice party shouted, “Wroclaw is being de-Polanized as the Jews are buying up homes in the city.”

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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.