Tag: russian jews


The Importance of Elie Wiesel: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, July 3, 2016— By the time he died yesterday at the age of 87, Elie Wiesel had attained a singular celebrity.

Elie Wiesel: In Memoriam: Manfred Gerstenfeld, Arutz Sheva, July 4, 2016— Elie Wiesel’s life means different things to different people.

Elie Wiesel’s Great Mission on Behalf of Soviet Jews: Natan Sharansky, Washington Post, July 4, 2016— Perhaps better than anyone else of our age, Elie Wiesel grasped the terrible power of silence.

America’s Fourth of July Ties to the State of Israel: Mike Evans, Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2016— America’s Independence Day, by far the most important national holiday of the year in the United States, commemorates the birth of the nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776…


On Topic Links


Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (Video): Newsweek, July 3, 2016

Israel Mourns Elie Wiesel as One of its Own: Aron Heller, Times of Israel, July 4, 2016

‘My God, Why the Children?’ Selections from Elie Wiesel’s Writings, Speeches and Interviews: Tristin Hopper, National Post, July 3, 2016

Nine Iconic Sites that Celebrate American Jewish History: Gabe Friedman and Andrew Silow-Carroll, Times of Israel, July 4, 2016




                               Jonathan S. Tobin

                                   Commentary, July 3, 2016


By the time he died yesterday at the age of 87, Elie Wiesel had attained a singular celebrity. He was the most famous Holocaust survivor and an icon of conscience. Wiesel was the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, the man who took Oprah to Auschwitz and the person journalists sought out for comment any time there was an atrocity happening somewhere. Through his books and lectures he became the chief storyteller about the Holocaust and Hasidic tales. But he was also the person who helped inspire generations of Jews and non-Jews to care about human rights while still remaining faithful to the need to protect the Jewish people and Israel against the anti-Semitic successors of the Nazis. As such he transcended the Holocaust and became a seminal figure in 20th century Jewish history.


Wiesel’s status as a witness of the Holocaust is now so deeply embedded in popular culture as well as those who study the subject seriously as to be taken for granted. But the influence of his writing during the period after World War Two when most survivors were not speaking about it cannot be overestimated. His Night is a book that has now been read by millions—but when it was first published in 1960, it was largely ignored. Yet along with the string of other books that followed it did more than merely keep alive the memory of that great crime and of its victims. It awoke in its audience a passion to care about drawing conclusions from history and a need to ponder the great question he asked about the silent complicity of the bystanders to the Shoah. For those who read his books and heard his lectures, Wiesel’s work was a call to conscience and to activism. Without his work and influence, the history of the movement to work for freedom for the Jews of the Soviet Union and to defend Israel in that era would have been much diminished if not unimaginable.


I believe many of Wiesel’s books and his collections of Hasidic tales will stand the test of time. But to grasp the impact of his work one must realize how important and unique Night was to its readers in that era. The same goes for his 1966 Jews of Silence, a book that, as much as any other event, helped launch widespread understanding of the plight of Soviet Jews during the decades when they were forbidden to emigrate to freedom in Israel and the West and sought to reacquaint themselves with their heritage after decades of Communist oppression.


As important as his books were, by the 1980s, Wiesel the symbol of the memory of the victims took center stage. His public confrontation with President Reagan over Reagan’s planned visit to an SS cemetery in Bitburg, Germany was a powerful moment that ought to stand as a lesson in how to respectfully speak truth to power. Reagan was a friend of the Jewish people and Israel and there were those who wished to give him a pass for doing a favor to his German ally Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But Wiesel didn’t hesitate or spare him when he famously said, “That place is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.” That sealed Wiesel’s status as celebrity icon of suffering and he endured criticism in his last decades from those who grew tired of seeing him showing up to lend his prestige for various human rights causes speaking in his trademark anguished style. But there’s one more element of Wiesel’s career that must be acknowledged and praised.


By his later years, Wiesel had risen above his beginnings to become a hero to many who cared nothing for the lessons of Jewish history. In an era when much of the study of the Holocaust had become dedicated to “liberating” the subject from a specific Jewish context and universalizing it, many of his admirers expected him to distance himself from Israel and specifically Jewish causes that were unpopular in the so-called “human rights community.” But while he always tried to be above partisan politics and appeal to the world’s conscience wherever genocide was taking place, he never stopped advocating for Israel and its right to self-defense even when doing so earned him abuse from the left.


Just as he failed to convince President Reagan to avoid Bitburg, Wiesel also failed to convince President Obama to make good on his pledge to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and to force it to abjure its genocidal threats against the Jewish state. But, as he did every time Israel came under attack, Wiesel remained faithful to the cause of the rights of the Jewish people and to their homeland and stood with Prime Minister Netanyahu as he sought to derail the administration’s appeasement of Iran. It was in that sense fitting that a vicious anti-Zionist like Max Blumenthal would choose to abuse Wiesel even after his death. Wiesel always knew his place was with the victims of terror, not the terrorists or those who desire the destruction of Israel, which is the only true memorial to the Six Million and the living symbol of the Jewish people’s will to survive.


Elie Wiesel may have spent his life pondering the mystery of survival when the world he knew as a boy went up in smoke through the chimneys of Auschwitz. But his life’s work helped ensure that memory lives and that those who have followed must never forget or fail to remember their obligation to stand up against those who wish to continue the work of Hitler and his accomplices. In an era in which anti-Semitism is sadly on the rise again throughout the globe, we need Wiesel’s example of moral courage more than ever. May his memory be for a blessing.            



ELIE WIESEL: IN MEMORIAM                                                                                      

Manfred Gerstenfeld                                                                                                         

Arutz Sheva, July 4, 2016


Elie Wiesel’s life means different things to different people. US President Barack Obama said, “Elie Wiesel was one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world. He raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms.” Former Israeli President Shimon Peres said in his memory, “Wiesel left his mark on humanity through preserving and upholding the legacy of the Holocaust and delivering a message of peace and respect between people worldwide. He endured the most serious atrocities of mankind – survived them and dedicated his life to conveying the message of `Never Again.”…


Some persons become symbols during their lives through how they live and what they do. The Talmud says it is not the place a man occupies that gives him honor, but the man gives honor to the place he occupies. That was the case when Wiesel was nominated for president of Israel in 2007. Would he have been a good president? I doubt it. A representative function like this requires many formal duties, including shaking the hands of thousands, sitting at long dinners, and listening to all too often uninspiring speeches. These requirements stymie creativity. Wiesel, like Albert Einstein – another Jew who became a symbol during his lifetime who refused Israel’s first presidency when Ben Gurion offered it to him – wisely turned the proposal down,

One of the many things a person who has become a symbol of morality can do is to influence policy and opinion with his statements. In Romania, the country where Wiesel was born, there had been many post-war efforts to distance the country from its responsibility for the Holocaust. An important step to expose this deflection process occurred when the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, chaired by Wiesel, released a report in November 2004 that unequivocally points to Romanian culpability. It declares: “Of all the Allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself.”


The increasing abuse of the term Holocaust pained Wiesel. In 1988, earlier than many others recognized this issue, he stated with emotion, “I cannot use [the word Holocaust] anymore. First, because there are no words, and also because it has become so trivialized that I cannot use it anymore. Whatever mishap occurs now, they call it ‘holocaust.’ I have seen it myself in television in the country in which I live. A commentator describing the defeat of a sports team called it a ’holocaust.’ Since then the abuse of the Holocaust has multiplied many times.


As the distortion of the Holocaust and the falsification of its memory are subjects of particular interest to me, I want to mention Wiesel’s role in fighting the Bitburg scandal. In 1985, U.S. president Ronald Reagan visited the German military cemetery of Bitburg. When his visit to Germany was announced, it was also specifically mentioned that he would not visit a concentration camp. Initially the impression was that only soldiers and officers of the German Army (Wehrmacht) were buried in the Bitburg cemetery. This visit, planned by the German government, was a clear act of whitewashing part of its past. The Wehrmacht, however, gave support to the SS, which carried out most of the mass murder of the Jews. Only years later would it become more widely known that the Wehrmacht itself had played such a major part in the murders.


Shortly after the visit was announced, it transpired that members of the Waffen SS were also buried in this cemetery. This led to huge protests against the visit. Reagan had agreed to go to Bitburg in order to show that the United States now had normal relations with Germany and its pro-American chancellor Helmut Kohl, but because of the protests he later decided to visit the Bergen Belsen concentration camp as well.


In his memoirs Wiesel devoted an entire chapter to the Bitburg affair. He summarized the essence of the whitewashing: The German tactic in this affair was obvious; to whitewash the SS. He wrote, “It is the final step in a carefully conceived plan. To begin with, Germany rehabilitated the 'gentle,' 'innocen'” Wehrmacht. And now, thanks to Kohl, it was the turn of the SS. First of all, the 'good' ones. And then would come the turn of the others. And once the door was open, the torturers and the murderers would be allowed in as well. Bitburg is meant to open that door…." Officials in the State Department tell me that Kohl bears full responsibility for this debacle; he convinced Reagan that if the visit were canceled it would be his, Kohl’s defeat, and hence that of the alliance between the United States and Germany.”


In 1986 Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize from the Norwegian Nobel Committee. This was an example of Wiesel honoring the prize rather than the prize honoring the man. When several years later Yasser Arafat would be one of the recipients of the same prize, he dishonored it. For years thereafter he continued to send murderers to kill Israeli citizens. A list of payments to Palestinian terrorists and assassins signed by Arafat was found in the Orient House in Jerusalem. It included Arafat’s hand-written changes as to the amounts to be paid to each murderer.


There are Westerners, often calling themselves progressives, who show understanding for Palestinian Arab terror because they view the Palestinians as victims. Wiesel was a symbol of victimhood. He had suffered far more than most Palestinians. Wiesel didn’t use it as an excuse to become a killer or support murderers, but to the contrary – to show humanity that however abused, a human can rise to great moral heights.




ELIE WIESEL’S GREAT MISSION ON BEHALF OF SOVIET JEWS                                                                            

Natan Sharansky                                                                                                    

Washington Post, July 4, 2016


Perhaps better than anyone else of our age, Elie Wiesel grasped the terrible power of silence. He understood that the failure to speak out, about both the horrors of the past and the evils of the present, is one of the most effective ways there is to perpetuate suffering and empower those who inflict it.


Wiesel therefore made it his life’s mission to ensure that silence would not prevail. First, he took the courageous and painful step of recounting the Holocaust, bringing it to public attention in a way that no one else before him had done. His harrowing chronicle “Night,” originally titled “And the World Remained Silent,” forced readers to confront that most awful of human events — to remember it, to talk about it, to make it part of their daily lives. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he turned his attention to the present, giving voice to the millions of Jews living behind the Iron Curtain. Although he is rightly hailed for the first of these two achievements, it was the second, he told me on several occasions, for which he most hoped to be remembered.


Wiesel first traveled to the Soviet Union in 1965 as a journalist from Haaretz, on a mission to meet with Jews there, and was shocked by what he saw. Those with whom he spoke were too afraid to recount Soviet persecution, terrified of reprisals from the regime, but their eyes implored him to tell the world about their plight. The book that resulted, “The Jews of Silence,” was an impassioned plea to Jews around the world to shed their indifference and speak out for those who could not. “For the second time in a single generation, we are committing the error of silence,” Wiesel warned — a phenomenon even more troubling to him than the voiceless suffering of Soviet Jews themselves.


This was a watershed moment in the struggle for Soviet Jewry. While the major American Jewish organizations felt a responsibility to stick to quiet diplomacy, wary of ruffling Soviet feathers and alienating non-Jews in the United States, Wiesel’s book became the banner of activists, students and those who would not stay quiet. He had realized that the Soviet regime wanted above all for its subjects to feel cut off from one another and abandoned by the world. Indeed, I can attest that even 15 years later, Soviet authorities were still doing their utmost to convince us — both those of us in prison and those out — that we were alone, that no one would save us and that the only way to survive was to accept their dictates.


Wiesel was thus uniquely perceptive in realizing that without this power to generate fear and isolation, the entire Soviet system could fall apart, and he was prophetic in calling on the rest of the world to remind Soviet Jews that they were not alone. The history of the Soviet Union would likely be very different had the struggle for Soviet Jewry not come to encompass the kind of outspoken, grass-roots activism that Wiesel encouraged in his book. Without public campaigns and the awareness they generated, there could be no quiet diplomacy to secure results. Every achievement in the struggle for Soviet Jewry over the succeeding 25 years — from making the first holes in the Iron Curtain, to securing the release of political prisoners and human rights activists, to ultimately making it possible for millions of Soviet Jews to emigrate — resulted from this mixture of activism and diplomacy, neither of which could succeed without the other.


Over the years, of course, Wiesel became an important part of establishment Jewish life. Every Jewish organization sought to co-opt him, to invite him to speak or to support their causes. Yet he remained deeply connected to the dozens of refusenik families whom he had effectively adopted as his own. From 1965 on, he once said, not a single day went by when he was not preoccupied with the fate of Soviet Jews, many of whom he regarded as his own family.


And he was true to this approach to the very end, to the last battle in our struggle: the March for Soviet Jewry in December 1987. Elie and I had first discussed the idea of a march more than a year earlier, in mid-1986. Yet six months after our initial conversation, I found myself lamenting to him that the Jewish establishment was too resistant to the idea, afraid of the logistical difficulties involved and of being painted as enemies of a newly born detente. Elie replied that we should not expect establishment organizations to take the lead and should instead mobilize students, who would pressure them from below to get on board. So I traveled to about 50 U.S. universities in the months leading up to the march, galvanizing activists who were eager to participate. And sure enough, just as he predicted, all of the major Jewish organizations eventually united behind the idea.


As we were all marching together, establishment leaders justifiably congratulated themselves for this great achievement. Elie looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Yes, they did it.” Rather than splitting hairs about who had been more influential, he credited the power of the Jewish world as a whole. We had been right to act as we did, to make noise and push for change through our own resolute campaign, but we needed the establishment to see our efforts through. Wiesel understood exceptionally well how to unite these two forces for the common good.


Elie Wiesel’s humanism, his active concern for the voiceless, hardly stopped with his fellow Jews. He spoke out against massacres in Bosnia, Cambodia and Sudan, against apartheid in South Africa, and against the burning of black churches in the United States. He became, as others have said, the conscience of the world. Yet he never gave up or sacrificed even a bit of his concern for the Jewish people. He did not feel he had to give up his Jewish loyalty or national pride to be a better spokesman for others. To the contrary: It was the tragedy of his people that generated his concern for the world — a world he felt God had abandoned — and it was his belief in universal ideas that helped him to ultimately reconcile with his Jewish God.






Mike Evans

Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2016


America’s Independence Day, by far the most important national holiday of the year in the United States, commemorates the birth of the nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, with fireworks, picnics, concerts, parades, political speeches and ceremonies. It is a day of patriotism and the largest birthday celebration in America – a true day of remembrance. It is in this spirit that I, as an American, will celebrate Israel. The nation of Israel and the Jewish people have sacrificed more for American freedom per capita than any nation on earth.


Radical Islamists call America the “Great Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan.” The reason is obvious; the Jewish people in Israel have, with their own blood, defended America and the Western world against radical Islam since the days of its rebirth on May 14, 1948. When Jewish poetess Emma Lazarus penned the immortal words emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, Palestine was desert, a wasteland in the hands of the unfriendly Turks. From 1881 to about 1920, three million Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States. Welcoming them to America were Lazarus’ words: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”


Ties between the Jewish people and the early pilgrims in America were as foundationally strong as the rock on which the Pilgrims stepped ashore in 1620. A group hoping to found a “New Israel” would become highly influential when the colonists began to aspire to freedom. Early founders and presidents of the newly- formed republic would express the hope that the children of Israel might one day find rebirth in their homeland – the land God gave to Abraham. Our forefathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, lobbied for an image of Moses guiding the Israelites on the Great Seal. Such presidents as John Adams, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln lobbied for a homeland in Palestine for the Jews. President Harry S. Truman was the first world leader to recognize the new State of Israel in 1948.


One of the greatest symbols of Israel’s sacrifice is Yonatan Netanyahu, commander of Sayaret Matkal, who was killed in action on July 4, 1976 during Operation Entebbe in Uganda. Character and dedication are symbolized in a letter Yonatan wrote to his parents on December 2, 1973: “We are preparing for war and it’s hard to know what to expect. What I am positive of is that there will be a next round and others after that. But, I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end. As I don’t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode amid thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.”


In 2008, Ugandan president Yoweri Musevani flew to Israel at the invitation of president Shimon Peres to attend the “Facing Tomorrow Conference.” When I discovered he was there, I immediately approached Grace, first lady of Uganda. I told her that her husband had broken his promise. I referred to the fact that Maureen Reagan Revel, the daughter of Ronald Reagan, had asked me in January 1986 to organize a press conference for president Musevani. Maureen had been having a difficult time arranging it because of all the negative press regarding Uganda’s former leader, Idi Amin. I was able to fulfill Maureen’s request and invited president Musevani to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Washington, DC. My invitation to Musevani was supported by then-director of the NRB Dr. Ben Armstrong, who invited the president to speak. I hosted Musevani and his cabinet in my suite, and during that meeting, he said, “I want to do something for you to show my appreciation.” I replied, “I only ask one thing of you, and that is to honor Jonathan Netanyahu with a memorial at the airport in Entebbe.” That did not happen…                             

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (Video): Newsweek, July 3, 2016—Author and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, who died Saturday at age 87, won the Noble Peace Prize in 1986 in recognition as "one of the most important spiritual leaders and guides in an age when violence, repression and racism continue to characterize the world."

Israel Mourns Elie Wiesel as One of its Own: Aron Heller, Times of Israel, July 4, 2016—Elie Wiesel never lived in Israel, but on Sunday the country mourned the death of the esteemed author and Nobel peace laureate as though it had lost a national icon.

‘My God, Why the Children?’ Selections from Elie Wiesel’s Writings, Speeches and Interviews: Tristin Hopper, National Post, July 3, 2016 —“I don’t know how I survived; I was weak, rather shy; I did nothing to save myself. A miracle? Certainly not. If heaven could or would perform a miracle for me, why not for others more deserving than myself? It was nothing more than chance.”

Nine Iconic Sites that Celebrate American Jewish History: Gabe Friedman and Andrew Silow-Carroll, Times of Israel, July 4, 2016—Monday is Independence Day in the US. That means it’s time for many Americans to take a day off, watch some fireworks and grill large amounts of meat to enjoy with friends and family.


A True Strategic Asset: Ariel Bolstein, Israel Hayom, June 7, 2016— Israel and Russia are marking the 25th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, and it's easy to say that the celebrations, taking place in Moscow on Tuesday, are completely justified.

Why Middle Eastern Leaders Are Talking to Putin, Not Obama: Dennis Ross, Politico, May 8, 2016 —The United States has significantly more military capability in the Middle East today than Russia—America has 35,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft; the Russians roughly 2,000 troops and, perhaps, 50 aircraft—and yet Middle Eastern leaders are making pilgrimages to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, not rushing to Washington.

Russia as a Regional Power: Tod Lindberg, Weekly Standard, May 12, 2016— It's hard to look on the bright side of the dismemberment of a sovereign state by force of arms.

Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2016— Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829.



On Topic Links


Russia Expert: Netanyahu-Putin Relations Reflect Moscow’s Push for Regional Influence, Jerusalem’s Need for Alternative to America (INTERVIEW): Ruthie Blum, Algemeiner, June 6, 2016

Russia to Return Israeli Tank Used in ’82 Battle With Syrians: Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 5, 2016

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession: New York Times, May 19, 2016

Is Russia Readying For the Kill in Syria?: Al-Monitor, June 5, 2016



A TRUE STRATEGIC ASSET                                                               

Ariel Bolstein                                                                

Israel Hayom, June 7, 2016


Israel and Russia are marking the 25th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, and it's easy to say that the celebrations, taking place in Moscow on Tuesday, are completely justified. The relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow is blossoming like never before, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is further evidence of this.


The painful topic of pension benefits earned by Jews who lived in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel prior to 1992 is finally coming to a resolution. In the years that preceded the waves of immigration to Israel, Jews across the Soviet Union worked hard and accrued pension benefits, but they were forced to relinquish their Soviet citizenship upon emigration. As a result, the authorities revoked their pension rights. For over 20 years, the Soviet expats have been refused what they were owed according to any measure of morality and justice. Thus immigrants from the former Soviet Union found themselves without any savings, forced to make do with a meager government stipend.


Now all this is about to change. It is not customary in our parts to dole out compliments, but Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, who doggedly pursued this issue despite it often appearing hopeless, deserves a lot of credit. He helped forge the system of trust that has been built between Netanyahu and Putin, and without this trust, nothing in Moscow can be pushed forward.


Meanwhile, the Russian capital is hosting a giant exhibit about Israel. The location — in the opulent hall at the entrance to the Kremlin and Red Square — says it all. In this exhibit, all aspects of Israeli life are on display, from the Jewish state's remarkable agriculture to its trailblazing information technology industry and its many notable scientific breakthroughs. When I was invited to represent the Israeli position on several of the prominent current affairs shows in Russia, I learned that the Kremlin looks favorably on strengthening Israel's image as an important, significant and even prestigious diplomatic partner. And now this positive trend is even more pronounced. The Kremlin exhibit extols Israel, and the friendly coverage it receives in the Russian press means that message will reach every Russian home.


In conjunction with the exhibit, the two countries are also signing important agricultural cooperation agreements in the field of dairy farming, which are very profitable for Israel. Additionally, the high-quality dates grown in the Jordan Valley are being snatched up by exhibit visitors. The word "boycott" is foreign to Russia when it comes to Israel, and the BDS movement has no foothold on Russian soil.


Russia is among the small handful of influential powers in the world today. Any framework of mutual appreciation and respect that is built between Israel and Russia is a true strategic asset for us. This is not only about forging ties at the highest political levels, but about the immediate social and economic impact on the Israeli population as well. The pension funds that will flow into Israel will increase spending by Soviet expats and provide an economic and commercial boost. The stream of tourists from Russia is expected to grow and contribute to creating more jobs in Israel. New economic agreements will open new markets to Israeli farmers who work so hard for their livelihood.


There are other, less obvious boons as well. Russia's declared comprehensive ban on the export of its sophisticated and dangerous Iskander short-range ballistic missile (which several Arab countries have sought to acquire), saves our national defense budget billions of shekels in what would otherwise be invested in trying to counter that threat.






Dennis Ross                                                        

                    Politico, May 8, 2016


The United States has significantly more military capability in the Middle East today than Russia—America has 35,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft; the Russians roughly 2,000 troops and, perhaps, 50 aircraft—and yet Middle Eastern leaders are making pilgrimages to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, not rushing to Washington. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to see the Russian president, his second trip to Russia since last fall, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia is planning a trip soon. Egypt’s president and other Middle Eastern leaders have also made the trek to see Putin.


Why is this happening, and why on my trips to the region am I hearing that Arabs and Israelis have pretty much given up on President Barack Obama? Because perceptions matter more than mere power: The Russians are seen as willing to use power to affect the balance of power in the region, and we are not.


Putin’s decision to intervene militarily in Syria has secured President Bashar Assad’s position and dramatically reduced the isolation imposed on Russia after the seizure of Crimea and its continuing manipulation of the fighting in Ukraine. And Putin’s worldview is completely at odds with Obama’s. Obama believes in the use of force only in circumstances where our security and homeland might be directly threatened. His mindset justifies pre-emptive action against terrorists and doing more to fight the Islamic State. But it frames U.S. interests and the use of force to support them in very narrow terms. It reflects the president’s reading of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, and helps to explain why he has been so reluctant to do more in Syria at a time when the war has produced a humanitarian catastrophe, a refugee crisis that threatens the underpinnings of the European Union, and helped to give rise to Islamic State. And, it also explains why he thinks that Putin cannot gain—and is losing—as a result of his military intervention in Syria.


But in the Middle East it is Putin’s views on the uses of coercion, including force to achieve political objectives, that appears to be the norm, not the exception—and that is true for our friends as well as adversaries. The Saudis acted in Yemen in no small part because they feared the United States would impose no limits on Iranian expansion in the area, and they felt the need to draw their own lines. In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, Iran’s behavior in the region has been more aggressive, not less so, with regular Iranian forces joining the Revolutionary Guard now deployed to Syria, wider use of Shiite militias, arms smuggling into Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and ballistic missile tests.


Russia’s presence has not helped. The Russian military intervention turned the tide in Syria and, contrary to Obama’s view, has put the Russians in a stronger position without imposing any meaningful costs on them. Not only are they not being penalized for their Syrian intervention, but the president himself is now calling Vladimir Putin and seeking his help to pressure Assad—effectively recognizing who has leverage. Middle Eastern leaders recognize it as well and realize they need to be talking to the Russians if they are to safeguard their interests. No doubt, it would be better if the rest of the world defined the nature of power the way Obama does. It would be better if, internationally, Putin were seen to be losing. But he is not.


This does not mean that we are weak and Russia is strong. Objectively, Russia is declining economically and low oil prices spell increasing financial troubles—a fact that may explain, at least in part, Putin’s desire to play up Russia’s role on the world stage and his exercise of power in the Middle East. But Obama’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia did not alter the perception of American weakness and our reluctance to affect the balance of power in the region. The Arab Gulf states fear growing Iranian strength more than they fear the Islamic State—and they are convinced that the administration is ready to acquiesce in Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony. Immediately after the president’s meeting at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a journalist very well connected to Saudi leaders, wrote: “Washington cannot open up doors to Iran allowing it to threaten regional countries … while asking the afflicted countries to settle silently.”


As I hear on my visits to the region, Arabs and Israelis alike are looking to the next administration. They know the Russians are not a force for stability; they count on the United States to play that role. Ironically, because Obama has conveyed a reluctance to exercise American power in the region, many of our traditional partners in the area realize they may have to do more themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing unless it drives them to act in ways that might be counterproductive. For example, had the Saudis been more confident about our readiness to counter the Iranian-backed threats in the region, would they have chosen to go to war in Yemen—a costly war that not surprisingly is very difficult to win and that has imposed a terrible price? Obama has been right to believe that the regional parties must play a larger role in fighting the Islamic State. He has, unfortunately, been wrong to believe they would do so if they thought we failed to see the bigger threat they saw and they doubted our credibility.


Indeed, so long as they question American reliability, there will be limits to how much they will expose themselves—whether in fighting the Islamic State, not responding to Russian entreaties, or even thinking about assuming a role of greater responsibility for Palestinian compromises on making peace with Israel. To take advantage of their recognition that they may need to run more risks and assume more responsibility in the region, they will want to know that America’s word is good and there will be no more “red lines” declared but unfulfilled; that we see the same threats they do; and that U.S. leaders understand that power affects the landscape in the region and will not hesitate to reassert it.




RUSSIA AS A REGIONAL POWER                                                                                             

Tod Lindberg                                                                                                        

Weekly Standard, May 12, 2016


It's hard to look on the bright side of the dismemberment of a sovereign state by force of arms. But because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threat Vladimir Putin intends to pose to eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration must now face international reality free of one of its more cherished illusions: that Russia is a partner in the pursuit of commonly desired outcomes.


Obama scoffed mightily in his reelection debate with Mitt Romney when the GOP candidate described Russia as America’s biggest strategic challenge. Called out on the remark in light of Russia’s move on Crimea, Obama was once again dismissive of the Romney perspective. He referred to Russia as merely “a regional power,” implicitly rebuking his defeated opponent even in light of current circumstances for overstating the danger Russia poses. The president’s point dovetailed into broader Democratic criticism of hawkish Republicans for the supposed desire of the latter to revive a Cold War mentality in dealing with Russia.


It’s certainly true that Putin’s Russia isn’t Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. In a way, that’s Putin’s point: In its hour of dire weakness, the Soviet Union and then Russia lost an empire. There is no likelihood of a global resurgence of Russian influence and proxy contests between Moscow and Washington ranging from Central Asia to Africa to Latin America. The United States has no need to return to a Cold War footing.


Nevertheless, Obama’s “regional power” remark is telling. For what exactly is a regional power? Well, if the term means anything, it’s a state that wields considerable influence over its neighbors—and not influence of the “soft power” sort. A regional power gets its way with less powerful states in its region whether the other states like it or not. A regional power practices coercive diplomacy based on the preponderance of its power. It makes demands in the name of its “national interest” that impinge directly on the perceived national interests that neighboring states have—demands to which the others accede.


Russia’s regional power includes not just its manifestly revivified military capability but also its economic power, in the form of the reliance of its neighbors on Russia for energy resources. Moscow can turn out the lights and turn off the heat, and although this capability as such would mean little in the hands of a state just interested in enriching those lucky enough to be participants in its oil and gas sector, in the case of a state seeking to reassert its regional influence, the ability to exercise economic coercion is a serious asset as well.


True, its economic power is a double-edged sword: The Russian economy depends heavily on a market for its energy resources. But would anybody today rule out as unworthy of consideration the possibility that come winter 2014, Russia might credibly threaten to curtail exports in the absence of concessions?


Nor is the energy sector the totality of Russia’s economic power. Russia has considerable trade flows with Europe, and to the extent anyone in Europe has considered decisions about policy toward Russia in light of business interests, that too indicates the reality of Russian economic power. Such trade flows don’t amount to an element of power when the trading partners don’t see themselves as having serious conflicts over national interests. There’s no point in wasting analytical resources on consideration of the economic power of the United States over Canada. But Putin’s Russia, qua “regional power,” now demands exactly such analysis.


Moreover, it seems clear from Obama’s characterization that the American president understands and accepts that Russia is a regional power—with all the perks that regional power entails. The palpable disappointment in the White House and in Secretary of State John Kerry’s office over Russia’s decision to take a “19th-century” approach to international politics rather than embrace a cooperative “21st-century” perspective also entails acknowledgment that there is nothing the United States can do to prevent Russia asserting itself in this fashion. That’s what being a regional power does for you: It ensures that a much bigger but far-away power isn’t in a position to stop your exercise in self-assertion in your neighborhood.


Hence the initial reaction of the Obama administration to Putin’s incursion into Ukraine: to try to persuade Putin that the practice of 19th-century-style power politics, including conquest and the annexation of territory, is antithetical to Russia’s own long-term interests. In short, the United States tried to talk him out of it—and to make sure he had an “off-ramp” available should he come to his 21st-century senses. The United States also promised “consequences,” starting with economic sanctions, for Putin’s failure to adhere once more to 21st-century norms of international conduct.


When you are trying to talk somebody out of a course of action by purporting to explain to that individual where his true interests lie—which is to say, in aligning his behavior with your own interests, values, and preferences—you are mainly engaged in an indirect effort to restate your own commitment to your interests, values, and preferences. Our policy in light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its threat to eastern Ukraine has had very little to do with either Russia or Ukraine and a great deal to do with the reassertion of our preference for 21st-century international norms.


So we have accepted Russia as a regional power that can have its way in its neighborhood. We will collect those who agree with our norms and stand together in opposition to Russian action. Maybe the sanctions will exact a toll. But their purpose is to enforce a shared sense of how a state like Russia ought to behave. There is no policy challenging Russia’s assertion of itself as a regional power, nor (yet) a policy to contest the growth of Russia’s regional power…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Yaroslav Trofimov                                                                                  

Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2016


Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829. A poet and playwright whose work is enshrined in the country’s literary canon, Griboyedov had the misfortune to be Czar Nicholas I’s ambassador to Tehran in the wake of Persia’s humiliating loss of territory to Moscow’s spreading empire. A Tehran mob, furious at the czar and his infidel representatives, stormed the embassy, slaughtering the unlucky ambassador and 36 other Russian diplomatic staff.

A century and a half later, in 1979, those events were almost replayed in Iran (as Persia is now known). When five leaders of the Iranian revolutionary students gathered in Tehran to decide which foreign embassy to target, two of them advocated seizing the Soviet legation. They were persuaded instead to overrun the U.S. embassy, creating a no less historic trauma for another world power entangled in the politics of the Middle East.


Russia’s long history of involvement—and warfare—in the region is largely unknown to Westerners, but it helps to explain President Vladimir Putin’s decision last fall to intervene in Syria’s civil war. Mr. Putin’s gambit on behalf of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad caught many in the West by surprise. Critics have assailed it as a miscalculated bid to replace the U.S. as the dominant outside power in the region.


But when viewed from Moscow, Mr. Putin’s Middle Eastern adventure looks like something very different: an overdue return to geopolitical aspirations that stretch back not only to the Soviet era but to centuries of czarist rule. “The Middle East is a way to showcase that the period of Russia’s absence from the international scene as a first-rate state has ended,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, which advises the Kremlin and other government institutions.


In Syria, Mr. Putin has achieved notable results. Russia has prevented the collapse of the Assad regime, which seemed imminent just a year ago. It also has positioned itself at the center of the Middle East’s diplomatic maneuvering, challenging the formerly unrivaled influence of the U.S. in the region. “Russia sent a message to the Middle East with its direct intervention in Syria: We are more serious in settling the region’s problems than the Americans are,” said Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the country’s leading Sunni politician.


But today’s Russia can no longer dictate outcomes in the Middle East, as it once did in 19th-century Persia. Mr. Putin’s Syria campaign is limited by design and necessity—a modest investment by a power that can only afford to invest modestly. It is an attempt to become relevant again in a region that, historically, Russia has seen as its strategic backyard. Russia has been in contact with the Muslim world, often unhappily, for more than a millennium. In the seventh century—long before the emergence of the Slavic principalities that would eventually form the Russian state—Arab armies of the early caliphate brought Islam to Derbent, the oldest city in today’s Russian Federation.


Ibn Fadlan, a 10th-century Arab diplomat and traveler, described meeting early Russians while visiting Muslim towns along the Volga River. He was struck by their “perfect bodies,” their poor hygiene and their practice of burning slave girls in the ship-borne funeral pyres of dead noblemen. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Arab globe-trotter, was less impressed: He wrote off the Russians as “an ugly and perfidious people with red hair and blue eyes.” At the time, the prince of Muscovy was a vassal of the Muslim khan of the Golden Horde, and Moscow’s coinage bore Arabic script. Only in 1480 did Muscovy become fully independent and stop paying tribute to its Muslim overlords. A few decades later, Czar Ivan the Terrible began a series of wars that destroyed the vast Muslim khanates in Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia, pushing Russia’s boundaries far to the south and east.


In the following centuries, Russia fought more than a dozen wars against the receding Ottoman Empire and steadily advanced into Persian-held lands. In the “Great Game” of the 19th century, Russia punched further south toward British India, gobbling up one Central Asian principality after another and almost coming to blows with the British over Afghanistan. Moscow also positioned itself as the protector of the Middle East’s Christians—many of whom, like the Russians, were Orthodox. (The current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, alluded to this history when he recently described Russia’s military campaign in Syria as a “holy war” and called Russian troops there “Christ-loving warriors.”)…                                  

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links


Russia Expert: Netanyahu-Putin Relations Reflect Moscow’s Push for Regional Influence, Jerusalem’s Need for Alternative to America (INTERVIEW): Ruthie Blum, Algemeiner, June 6, 2016— What distinguishes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current trip to Moscow from his previous three parleys with the Russian president is that this one will focus on the Palestinians and the future of Syria, Mideast and Russia expert Zvi Magen told The Algemeiner on Monday, explaining that the Kremlin wants increased influence in the region, and that Jerusalem needs an alternative to the United States as a guarantor of its interests.

Russia to Return Israeli Tank Used in ’82 Battle With Syrians: Isabel Kershner, New York Times, June 5, 2016—In a sign of growing cooperation, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has agreed to return to Israel a tank that was seized during a disastrous 1982 battle with Syrian forces in southern Lebanon, an episode that left three Israeli soldiers missing in action and has haunted Israel for more than 30 years.

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession: New York Times, May 19, 2016— The United States and Russia are now proposing to drop food and other emergency aid from the air if President Bashar al-Assad of Syria does not allow trucks to deliver supplies to his besieged cities.

Is Russia Readying For the Kill in Syria?: Al-Monitor, June 5, 2016—Russia may be preparing to back a renewed assault by Syrian government forces to retake Aleppo, and perhaps even Raqqa, from Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups in the coming weeks.








Precarious Syria Talks Leave its Future Uncertain: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2016 — UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura this week announced the suspension of just-convened peace talks in Geneva intended to resolve the Syrian civil war.

Missing the Cold War? You Can Get a Taste of it Again in Eastern Europe: Matt Gurney, National Post, Feb. 10, 2016— I confess to always having had a touch of Cold War envy.

Vladimir Putin Will Only Become More Murderous and Dangerous: Ralph Peters, New York Post, Jan. 24, 2016— On Thursday, a formal British inquiry into the assassination of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko released its findings: Litvinenko was murdered, and Vladimir Putin “probably” approved the operation personally.

Putin Calls on European Jews to Take Refuge in Russia: Sam Sokol, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2016 — Western European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism are welcome to take refuge in the Russian Federation, which is “ready to accept them,” President Vladimir Putin told a visiting delegation of Jewish community leaders on Tuesday.


On Topic Links


Will Russian Victories in Syria Spark a Regional War?: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 11, 2016

Russia Announces Surprise Military Drills in South: Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, Feb. 8, 2016

Bleed Russia: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Feb. 7, 2016

Who Needs Assassins When You’ve Got Hackers?: Mark Galeotti, New York Times, Jan. 22, 2015



PRECARIOUS SYRIA TALKS LEAVE ITS FUTURE UNCERTAIN                                                                  

Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2016


UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura this week announced the suspension of just-convened peace talks in Geneva intended to resolve the Syrian civil war. The failure of the talks was predictable, and foreseen by most serious analysts on Syria. Diplomacy requires compromise. But the forces of President Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are advancing in both northern and southern Syria. The dictator and his allies, as a consequence, see no reason to abandon their core aims or accept a political process leading to a transition of power.

The action of consequence with regard to Syria is taking place on the battlefields of Aleppo, Idlib, Deraa and Quneitra provinces, not in the conference rooms of Geneva and Vienna. The aim of the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies at present appears to be to destroy the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebellion against Assad. This would have the consequence of leaving only three effective protagonists in the war in Syria – Assad, Islamic State and the Kurds in the north.

Moscow is engaged at the moment in the energetic courting of the Kurds. Should Russia, after defeating the non-Islamic State rebels, succeed in tempting the Syrian Kurds away from their current alliance with the US, this would leave Moscow the effective master of the universally approved war against Islamic State in Syria. Assad, who was facing possible defeat prior to the Russian intervention in September 2015, would be entirely dependent on Moscow and to a lesser extent Tehran for his survival. This would make the Russians and Iranians the decisive element in Syria’s future.

The defeat of the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebellion is the first stage in this strategy. The main regime and Russian efforts are currently directed toward the remaining heartland of the rebellion in northwest Syria. But Assad and his allies also appear intent on delivering a death blow to the revolt in the place it was born – Deraa province in the south and its environs. This, incidentally, if achieved in its entirety, would bring Hezbollah and Iran to the area east of Quneitra crossing, facing the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights. It is not by any means certain that the regime will achieve this aim in total. But as of now, Assad and his friends are moving forward.

The first stage following the Russian intervention, and achieved in the dying months of 2015, was to end the rebel threat to the regime enclave in Latakia province. There is no further prospect of the rebels finding their way into the populated areas of this province. The regime has recaptured 35 villages in the northern Latakia countryside. This achieved, the main fulcrum of the current effort is Aleppo province. Aleppo is the capital of Syria’s north. The rebellion’s arrival in this city in the late summer of 2012 signaled the point at which it first began to pose a real threat to Assad.

This week, the regime, its Iran-mustered Shi’a militia supporters and Russian air power succeeded in breaking the link between the border town of Azaz and rebel-held eastern Aleppo. This reporter traveled these rebel supply routes from the border when they were first carved out in 2012. They were vital to the maintenance of the rebellion’s positions in Aleppo. There is a single link remaining between Turkey and eastern Aleppo – via Idlib province.

But the rebel situation is rapidly deteriorating. The regime also broke a two-year siege on two Shi’ite towns, Nubul and Zahra. The rebels rushed all available personnel and resources to defend these supply routes. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida branch in Syria, sent a convoy of 750 fighters to the area. This proved insufficient. Further south, a recent regime offensive in Deraa province led to the recapture of the town of Sheikh Maskin, which again cuts the rebels off from key supply lines in a province they once dominated.

So the direction of the war is currently in the regime’s favor. This is due to the Russian air intervention and to Iran’s provision of ground fighters from a variety of regional populations aligned with it. The pattern of events on the ground had a predictable effect on the diplomacy in Geneva. All this does not, however, necessarily presage imminent and comprehensive regime and Russian success on the ground.

Syrian opposition sources note that the pendulum of the war has swung back and forth many times in the course of the last four years. They hope that fresh efforts from Ankara, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will help to stem regime gains in the weeks ahead. Perhaps more fundamentally, any attempt by the regime to claw back the entirety of Sunni Arab majority areas or Kurdish majority areas of Syria would lead to the same situation the regime faced in 2012 – namely, overstretch and insufficient forces to effectively hold areas conquered.

But as of now, thanks to the Russian intervention, prospects for rebel victory have been averted and the Assad regime, with its allies, is on the march once more. Comprehensive eclipse for the non-Islamic State Sunni Arab rebel groups is no longer an impossibility somewhere down the line. This reality at present precludes progress toward a diplomatic solution. As an old Russian proverb has it: When the guns roar, the muses are silent.                                    






         Matt Gurney                                                                         

  National Post, Feb. 10, 2016


I confess to always having had a touch of Cold War envy. As a keen watcher of military and geopolitical affairs, I far prefer the relatively clear and orderly divisions of the superpower rivalry to the gigantic sucking chest wound that is modern international affairs. I’m old enough, barely, to remember the dying days of the Cold War — my parents told me to watch TV when the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989. It was important, they said. They were right.


I studied the Cold War closely in school. I’m probably one of only a handful of Canadians born after 1980 who doesn’t get confused by terms like “MIRV,” “Looking Glass,” “EMP” and “countervalue.” But I was certainly content enough, seeing as how I live in a major urban-industrial era, to leave the Cold War and its nuclear terminology in the past. But it’s getting increasingly hard to do that. Last week, after years of diverting its attention elsewhere, the U.S. military began ramping up its force levels and spending in Europe — particularly Eastern Europe. A brigade-sized force, anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 troops, will establish a quasi-permanent U.S. military presence in the easternmost NATO countries — Poland and the Baltics are places oft mentioned as probable homes for the U.S. force.


“Quasi” permanent is an important legal distinction here. NATO had previously agreed with Russia, during warmer times in the East-West relationship, to never permanently station NATO forces in Eastern Europe (beyond the local military forces of the member states there, of course). So the U.S. intends to frequently rotate different units in and out of the area. No troops will be “permanently” assigned to Eastern Europe, but a sizeable U.S. force will always be there. There will also be large stocks of U.S. munitions and equipment in the region, sufficient to allow a larger force to be rapidly, by the standards of such things, ramped up, if needed.


A quasi-permanent force of only 5,000 troops isn’t exactly breaking out the plans for REFORGER (Cold War military vets will remember that term — see, I told you I know my terminology!). But it’s a pretty dramatic sign that the U.S. views Russia as a real threat. NATO’s eastern members have always feared Moscow, of course, and would welcome as much NATO firepower and as many troops as we could send. But NATO’s western members have preferred to play nice with Moscow, and do business with it.


We still can, within limits. No one is suggesting we unduly provoke the Russians. And despite ongoing Western sanctions against Russia, few have proposed completely isolating the country’s economy or political leadership. Russia is a major player on the world stage, particularly in the Middle East. It’s a fact on the ground that we must contend with. Fair enough. But we have to contend with it from a position of strength. Russia is only a shadow of what it was during the Cold War. The correlation of forces, if I can slip into military jargon once more, are vastly more favourable to NATO now than they ever were before. Russia has kept up its nuclear arsenal, or so we believe. Other than that, the West enjoys military and economic superiority over the Russians that could only have dreamed over in prior generations.


The problem, of course, is that the West is reluctant to use its forces, or to invest its economic might in military readiness. The Russians are currently reeling from the collapse in global oil prices, and that’s a very serious problem that could become critical for them in years to come. But in the meantime, they have invested heavily in modernizing their armed forces, and they’re not afraid to use them. They’ve thrown themselves into the Syrian civil war, they’ve invaded Ukraine (their use of proxies is only the flimsiest of possible shields) and they’ve been patrolling and posturing aggressively all over the world. Russian jets are probing NATO countries across the globe, including North America. NATO naval commanders recently went on the record to say they haven’t seen this much Russian submarine activity in decades.


It’s not always what you’ve got, in other words, but how you use it. And the Russians are using their military forces aggressively — and well. There’s a school of thought that suggests they’re just thumping their chests to keep us on edge, and that much of their recent behaviour is essentially designed to unnerve and cow the West, precisely because Russian President Vladimir Putin, the old Cold Warrior, knows how much ground Russia has lost to NATO. I find that explanation compelling.


But we can’t bank on it. Russia’s back and wants to throw its weight around in parts of the world in which the West has had almost total freedom of action since the Cold War ended. Fair enough. They have the right to an armed forces and to use it, within reasonable limits, as they see fit (they’ve exceeded those limits some, most dramatically in Ukraine, but the point stands). But the West has military forces too, and the right to use them as well. Further, through NATO, it has an obligation to stand with its allies. In recent years, war games have shown that it would be hellishly difficult to prevent Russia from grabbing the eastern NATO states in the unlikely event that they chose to. The U.S. standing up a brigade there is a response to that, and also a clear sign to Putin that, yes, NATO takes itself seriously.


This isn’t the Cold War, it just feels like it sometimes. But we still need to take our own defence seriously. If Russian troops (or “little green men” who just happen to speak Russian, carry Russian weapons and call in support from air units and artillery inside Russia, as happened in Ukraine) move into a NATO country, they won’t just be dealing with local forces, but the U.S. Army, and probably other NATO countries, as well (Canada, too, has sent rotating infantry companies). It’s a classic tripwire — sure, maybe the Russians could overwhelm those forces, but they’d think twice about killing a bunch of Americans, Canadians and Britons to gobble up the Baltics. Putin’s probably not that crazy, but it’s good to be ready. Just in case.






Ralph Peters                                    

                                                New York Post, Jan. 24, 2016


On Thursday, a formal British inquiry into the assassination of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko released its findings: Litvinenko was murdered, and Vladimir Putin “probably” approved the operation personally. No one who follows Russian affairs was surprised. The evidence was overwhelming. A decade ago, two Russian spies had poisoned their former colleague by spiking his tea with polonium in London, leaving a radioactive trail that led back to Moscow. On his deathbed, Litvinenko stated that Putin had ordered the hit. No sane person doubted him.


On Friday, a Kremlin spokesman dismissed the findings as “English humor.” Extradition requests for the named assassins will go ignored. And Czar Vladimir will continue to murder political opponents and critics whenever he wants. We know the famous victims, such as crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya and opposition candidate Boris Nemtsov, but there have been far more deaths. This is murder as a tool of statecraft.


Just last week, Putin’s favorite henchman, Chechen chief Ramzan Kadyrov, cur of the Caucasus, openly threatened media workers and dissidents who dare to dream of a different path for Russia. Putin’s Russia isn’t a nation of laws, but it is a land of rules. And rule No. 1 is that no one’s allowed to criticize, mock or challenge the reigning czar. To borrow the words of one of our own apparatchiki, “What does it matter?” Why should we care about the death of one defector when the world’s ablaze? Because the second-most-powerful nuclear-armed state is ruled dictatorially by a remorseless assassin. It matters because he ignores international law. It matters because, like Hitler, he has a vision that only war can fulfill. And it matters because he’s as brilliant as he is ruthless, a leader who knows his own people and sizes up his enemies with genius.


When Putin climbed onto the throne, Russia was crumbling. Underestimated at home and abroad, the former KGB officer quickly centralized power, enforced his will, enriched his people (thanks to an oil and gas boom) and, not least, gave Russians back their national pride. He built a cult of personality that played to the common citizen, sidelining the urban intelligentsia. He tamed the hated Yeltsin-era oligarchs, just as his idol, Peter the Great, had broken the boyari, old Russia’s aristocrats. And he bought influence in Europe, disrupting every response to his bad behavior.


He used natural gas as a weapon, letting East Europeans freeze to death. Western Europeans wept crocodile tears and signed new energy contracts. After toying with a feckless American president, Putin “liberated” Crimea from Ukraine. When the West failed to respond in a serious way, he invaded eastern Ukraine. In both operations he used thinly disguised security forces, smirking as he denied Russian involvement. Again, he faced a limp response, sanctions designed to protect Western business interests.


Next, he staged a military surprise, deploying forces to Syria under the high-tech noses of Western intelligence agencies. While the Syrian opposition turned out to be tougher than he expected, Putin nonetheless has managed to stabilize the Assad government’s position, insuring that, whatever Bashar al-Assad’s personal fate, a pro-Russian regime will remain in Damascus. Now, in addition to expanding Russia’s longtime presence on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, Putin’s grabbing an airbase in the interior, just where a Russian presence would block the advance of US-backed rebels. Again, we will do nothing.


Along the way, Putin’s suffered embarrassments, but no compelling defeats. The West has yet to stand up to him in any significant way. The result is that he now expects to win — which makes him extremely dangerous. That danger may be coming to a head, because market forces are doing what no Western leader dared: applying the brakes. With oil and gas prices plummeting, Russia’s economy’s shrinking, inflation’s soaring, the ruble’s collapsing, pensions are losing value, wages can’t keep pace — and the first hairline cracks in Putin’s popularity are showing. The czar won’t fall tomorrow, but the grumbling has begun.


For the first time, I believe the Kremlin’s fudging the numbers on Putin’s popularity, which officially remain at an 85% approval rating. Putin’s single weakness has been his poor grasp of economics. Instead of diversifying Russia’s economy when the times were good, he relied on oil and gas production — which he could control, restricting Russia’s new aristocracy of wealth to the manageable size of the old court nobility. A diversified economy would have diffused his authority.


But in the words of the greatest American economist of our time, Cyndi Lauper, “Money changes everything.” Putin’s inattention to market fundamentals is hurting him now. Although Russia’s projected budget — amended week to week — seeks to fence funds for Putin’s cherished military buildup, it becomes a greater challenge by the day. Even those cautious Western sanctions add to the pain now, intensifying the effects of plunging commodity prices. Should we rejoice? Does this mean that the assassinations and invasions might end? No. In his desperation, Putin could become even more embittered and reckless. Ailing on the home front, he may feel compelled to deliver new triumphs abroad. His throne isn’t threatened yet, but his pride is wounded. And beware a wounded bear.





Sam Sokol

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2016


Western European Jews fleeing anti-Semitism are welcome to take refuge in the Russian Federation, which is “ready to accept them,” President Vladimir Putin told a visiting delegation of Jewish community leaders on Tuesday. In an exchange with Dr. Moshe Vyacheslav Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, in the Kremlin, Putin reacted to reports of stark increases in anti-Semitic violence by stating that Jews “should come here, to Russia. They left the Soviet Union; now they should come back.”


In response, Kantor called Putin’s proposal “a fundamentally new idea” that he plans on raising for discussion among European Jewish leaders at the EJC’s upcoming general assembly, adding that he hopes they would support it. Kantor also came out in favor of Russia’s involvement in Syria, where it supports dictator Bashar Assad, stating that the congress “decisively supports the actions of the Russian Federation against Islamic State.


“Why are Jews running from a Europe that was recently safe? They are fleeing, as you rightly said, not only because of terrorist attacks against our communities in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, and now Marseille, but because of their fear to simply appear in the streets of European cities,” Kantor said, citing research that indicated that anti-Semitic violence surged 40 percent worldwide in 2014. A recent study in France indicated that 43 percent of that nation’s Jews are interested in emigrating.


Kantor complained both of “an explosive growth in nationalism, xenophobia and racism, with radical right movements sprouting up like mushrooms” as well as “Islamic fundamentalism and extremism” in Europe. “The continent has not outlived the age-old disease: During times of socioeconomic crisis, it is struck again by the virus of anti-Semitism. That is why the Jews who carry the ‘genetic’ memory of the horrors of the 1930s are leaving Europe,” he said. Several days before the meeting, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Jewish News website he understands that Putin had called for the meeting. “Our meeting was strikingly friendly,” Arkush subsequently said. “As someone with a background of activism in the campaign for Soviet Jewry, I see the encounter as a clear sign of warming relations and trust between Russia and the Jewish people and Israel. I do not believe it will be the last such meeting.”


Putin’s comments were generally well received, with the World Israel Beytenu Movement calling Putin’s words an example of “his positive approach toward the Jewish community in Russia and the Jewish state” and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia calling Putin’s invitation part of a “Jew-friendly position.” Ukrainian Jews were less well disposed toward Putin’s call, however, with Eduard Dolinsky, who directs the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, telling The Jerusalem Post that “It’s like a call from an Egyptian pharaoh for Jews to come back.”


Putin’s administration has consistently accused the Ukrainian state of anti-Semitism since pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovich was toppled in a popular revolution two years ago, leading to intense anger toward the Kremlin by many Ukrainian Jews, who believe they have been made into propaganda pawns in the conflict. Noting that the Putin meeting took place only weeks before Kantor is slated to run for reelection as head of the EJC, Dolinsky said he believes the goal of the meeting was two-fold, “to show EJC members that he has support of Putin and show Putin that he controls European Jewish organization.”


“I think this trip and Kantor remarks about the Congress supporting Russia operation in Syria will cause a deep disagreement inside of EJC and European Jewish organizations.” While Kantor and Putin railed against the strengthening of far-right parties in western Europe, critics have accused the Kremlin of collaborating with some of these groups. France’s National Front was given a multimillion- euro loan by a Moscow bank in 2014, while Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik Party was included in the list of observers who oversaw elections in the Russian-backed separatist enclave of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Putin, The Economist reported two years ago, “has some curious bedfellows on the fringes of European politics.”


On Topic


Will Russian Victories in Syria Spark a Regional War?: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 11, 2016—Defying U.S. predictions of a quagmire in Syria, Russia is achieving strategic victories there with this month’s Aleppo offensive.

Russia Announces Surprise Military Drills in South: Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, Feb. 8, 2016— Russia’s Defense Ministry announced a surprise military exercise on Monday that ordered troops garrisoned throughout the nation’s southern region to full combat readiness, a move that appeared intended to unnerve neighbors.

Bleed Russia: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Feb. 7, 2016—When Governor Mitt Romney described Russia as the greatest geopolitical foe the United States faced, President Obama ridiculed him. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” the president quipped. And yet today hardly an American warship departs Norfolk, Virginia or Mayport, Florida that is not tailed by a Russian submarine or shadowed by a Russian spy ship.

Who Needs Assassins When You’ve Got Hackers?: Mark Galeotti, New York Times, Jan. 22, 2015—A British inquiry announced this week that Alexander V. Litvinenko, a Russian security officer turned defector who died in a London hospital of polonium poisoning in 2006, was “probably” murdered on the instructions of President Vladimir V. Putin. That’s little surprise. For more than eight years the world has suspected that the Kremlin was behind the assassination. (Just as surely, Mr. Putin has denied his responsibility. His spokesman Dmitri Peskov denounced the inquiry as a “quasi investigation” and an expression of the “elegant British sense of humor.”)











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My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel: Ari Shavit, Spiegel & Grau, 2013—There will be no utopia here. Israel will never be the ideal nation it set out to be, nor will it be Europe-away-from-Europe. There will be no London here, no Paris, no Vienna. But what has evolved in this land is not to be dismissed. A series of great revolts has created here a truly free  society that is alive and kicking and fascinating.


Religious Jewish Guide To Sistine Chapel Decodes Michaelangelo’s ‘Jewish Symbols’: National Post, May 26, 2013 —The first religious Jew to be authorized by the Vatican to act as a docent in Catholic museums, bestselling author Roy Doliner’s life seems like it could be taken directly from a Dan Brown novel. Labeled by the Italian media as “Rome’s Jewish Robert Langdon,” Mr. Doliner conducts tours of the Sistine chapel for the high-profile politicians, ambassadors and celebrities.


Italy Prof. Says Has Found World's Oldest Torah: Reuters, May 29, 2013—An Italian professor said on Wednesday he has identified what he believes is the world's oldest complete scroll of the Torah, containing the full text of the first five books of Hebrew scripture.


Israeli Scientists Match Cairo Geniza Fragments: Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2013—A team of computer scientists and programmers in Jerusalem, working in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, says it has achieved a breakthrough in piecing together the disparate fragments of the Cairo Geniza.


Russian Jewish Veterans of World War II Swell with Pride: Sue Fishkoff, JTA, Apr. 27, 2013—May 9 marks the 60th anniversary of V-Day, the date in 1945 when Nazi Germany capitulated. Nowhere has it been as resolutely commemorated each year as in the former Soviet Union, which lost a staggering 25 million citizens during what is still called the Great Patriotic War.


On Topic Links


The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican: R. Benjamin Blech, Orthodox Union, May 1, 2012 (YouTube video)

BDS Movement Suffers Defeat in SEC Divestment Battle: Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Jewish Press, May 30th, 2013




Ari Shavit

Spiegel & Grau, 2013

There will be no utopia here. Israel will never be the ideal nation it set out to be, nor will it be Europe-away-from-Europe. There will be no London here, no Paris, no Vienna. But what has evolved in this land is not to be dismissed. A series of great revolts has created here a truly free  society that is alive and kicking and fascinating. This free society is creative and passionate and frenzied. It gives the ones living here a unique quality of life. Warmth, directness, openness. Yes, we are orphans. We have no king and no father. We have no coherent identity and no continuous past. In a sense, we have no civic culture. Our grace is the semibarbaric grace of the wild ones. It is the youthful grace of the inbound and the uncouth. We respect no past and no future and no authority. We are irreverent. We are deeply anarchic. And yet, because we are all alone in this world, we stick together. Because we are orphans, we are brothers in arms, brothers in fate.


There was hope for peace, but there will be no peace here, not soon. There was hope for quiet, but there will be no quiet here. The foundations of the home we founded are somewhat shaky, and repeating earthquakes rattle it. So what we really have in this land is an ongoing adventure. An odyssey. The Jewish state does not resemble any other nation. What this nation has to offer is not security or well being or peace of mind. What it has to offer is the intensity of life on the edge. The adrenaline rush of living dangerously, living lustfully, living to the extreme. If a Vesuvius-like volcano were to erupt tonight and end our Pompeii, this is what it will petrify: a living people. People that have come from death and were surrounded by death but who nevertheless put up a spectacular spectacle of life. People who danced the dance of life to the very end.


I walk into the very same bar I walked into some weeks ago. Once again I sit by the bar and sip my single malt. I see the ancient port through the windows, and I watch people sitting in restaurants and walking into galleries and wandering about the pier. Bottom line, I think, Zionism was about regenerating Jewish vitality. The Israel tale is the tale of vitality against all odds. So the duality is mind-boggling. We are the most prosaic and prickly people one can imagine. We cannot stand Puritanism or sentimentality. We do not trust high words or lofty concepts. And yet we take part daily in a phenomenal historical vision. We participate in an event far greater than ourselves. We are a ragtag cast in an epic motion picture whose plot we do not understand and cannot grasp. The script writer went mad. The director ran away. The producer went bankrupt. But we are still here, on this biblical set. The camera is still rolling. And as the camera pans out and pulls up, it sees us converging on this shore. Clinging to this shore. Living on this shore. Come what may. [Excerpted from My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Avi Shavit, Spiegel & Grau, 2013 – Ed.]


Ari Shavit is a leading Israeli journalist and a columnist for Haaretz.


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Jen Gerson

National Post, May 26, 2013


The first religious Jew to be authorized by the Vatican to act as a docent in Catholic museums, bestselling author Roy Doliner’s life seems like it could be taken directly from a Dan Brown novel. Labelled by the Italian media as “Rome’s Jewish Robert Langdon,” Mr. Doliner conducts tours of the Sistine chapel for the high-profile politicians, ambassadors and celebrities. A playwright and the author of four books, the most recent of which The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, is slated to become a Discovery Channel documentary.


His findings caused a stir in the church: he said he found signs in the works of Michelangelo that suggest the famous Renaissance painter had studied Jewish wisdom literature — such as the Kabbalah — and hid symbols in his paintings. The Post spoke with Mr. Doliner during his recent visit to Calgary where he lectured on behalf of Congregation House of Jacob-Mikveh Israel, the city’s oldest Jewish organization.


Q: Can you tell me why they call you “Rome’s Jewish Robert Langdon”?


A: The Italian media, they love nicknames and because whenever there’s a mystery in the art history world, when there’s an artwork that they’ve not been able to figure out who made it or what it’s really saying, I get called in.


Q: Why do you get called in?


A: Because of the book I wrote. Sistine Secrets sounds like a Dan Brown novel except this is all true. It’s all documented, it’s all accepted. It was my dumb luck to decode the Sistine chapel.


Q: How did you stumble upon that particular mystery?


A: My friends in the Vatican — and thank goodness I have a lot of friends in the Vatican — tell me I’m the first religious Jew to spend enormous amounts of time in the Sistine Chapel. And what was being said by the authorized Vatican guides and the authorized Vatican guidebooks didn’t jibe with what Michelangelo was painting on the ceiling.


And I started to notice Jewish stuff and I thought it was just my imagination. I was enormously skeptical. It took years and years of research. I found out Michelangelo was a devout Christian his entire life, but at the age of 13, he was introduced to a private tutor that taught him Jewish wisdom literature and he went nuts over it and kept on quoting it visually.


Q: Can you give me an example of the kind of Jewish stuff you were noticing in the Sistine Chapel?


A: Well, here’s one thing. What’s the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden?


Q: Isn’t there some debate over whether it’s a pomegranate or an apple?


A: That’s right, and the standard tradition. However, in the original Jewish tradition, in the Talmud, they figure out it’s a fig tree. God always gives us the solution to a problem hidden inside the problem itself so when Adam and Eve figured out they were stark naked, the solution to the problem is a fig leaf. According to Talmudic logic, if the fig leaf was nearby, guess what else would need to be nearby. In almost all of Western art, it’s the apple tree and the forbidden apple. Yet you go to the Sistine chapel and all the fruits connected with the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden are figs. Every single panel on the ceiling, there’s not a single Christian figure, not a single Christian symbol. It’s all Jewish stuff.


Q: Can you tell me about a few more examples you found?


A: For instance, in the last judgement over the altar, right in the inner circle of saintly souls surrounding Jesus and Mary in paradise [Michelangelo] sneaks in two Orthodox Jews. That’s blasphemy in the 1500s, and the Vatican didn’t know they were there until the book came out.


Q: But you’re not asserting that Michelangelo was Jewish?


A: No, no, he was a devout Christian his entire life. What he’s putting into his art works — and we know this because he put it in his private letters — was that as a religious Christian, he was extremely angry at the scandals and abuses of power he was seeing every day in the Vatican.


Q: Why did he pick Jewish symbolism to express this anger, and why didn’t he get caught?


A: Back then, he had three different papal censors looking after his every move, spying on him, but he locked out that staff and brought in five childhood friends from Florence. On the day he finished the painting, he destroyed the special scaffolding he built to paint the ceiling so nobody else could get back up there to closely inspect it unless they wanted to render the chapel unusable for several years. His engineering skills saved the ceiling. Meanwhile, the censors had figured out all the hidden codes the other artists were using, whether they were birds, flowers, gestures or positions. References to Greco-Roman myth, for instances, they knew that inside and out. One thing they didn’t know was the deep end of the pool, Jewish wisdom literature, the Talmud, parables and, of course, the Kabbalah. It was like a message in a bottle waiting 500 years.


Q: How did the Vatican react when the book came out?


A: At first they were in high dudgeon. There were some holdouts when it came out, but now they are thrilled with the message; Michelangelo was looking for inter-religious brotherhood and that’s what we say in the book. He was making a bridge, he was bridging the Christian faith and the Jewish faith. That might sound cliche and banal in 2013, but we’re talking about five centuries ago. That could get you burned alive in public.


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Reuters, May 29, 2013


An Italian professor said on Wednesday [May 29] he has identified what he believes is the world's oldest complete scroll of the Torah, containing the full text of the first five books of Hebrew scripture. Mauro Perani, professor of Hebrew at the University of Bologna, said experts and carbon dating tests done in Italy and the United States dated the scroll as having been made between 1155 and 1225. The scroll, which has been in possession of the Bologna University Library for more than 100 years, had been previously thought to be from the 17th century. It had been labeled "scroll 2".


There are many fragments of the Torah that are older but not complete scrolls with all five books. "A Jew who was a librarian at the university examined the scroll in 1889 for a catalogue and wrote '17th century followed by a question mark,'" Perani said in a telephone interview. But in preparation for a new catalogue of the university's Judaica collection, Perani, 63, studied the scroll and suspected that the librarian had made too cursory an examination in 1889 and not recognised its antiquity.


"I realised that the style of the writing was older than the 17th century so I consulted with other experts," he said of the scroll, which measures 36 metres by 64 cm (39 yards by 25 inches). He said the scroll showed many graphical features and scribal devices that were no longer used by copyists of Hebrew scripts in the 17th century. The scroll is made up of 58 sections of soft sheep leather each sewn together, most of them with three columns of script.


After the experts he consulted agreed that the scroll was probably several centuries older than previously believed, Perani had fragments of it subjected to carbon-14 dating tests. The tests, at the University of Salento in southern Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois, dated the scroll as from the second half of the 12th century to the first quarter of the 13th century. The Torah, also known as the Hebrew Pentateuch, consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.


The complete version of the Torah that was previously considered the oldest was from the late 13th century, Perani said. He said that before the scroll came into possession of the University of Bologna in the 18th or 19th century it had been in the custody of the Dominican convent in the city that is home to the world's oldest university. Perani said it was not clear where the Torah had been copied but most likely it was not in Italy. It was probably made by a copyist trained in the oriental tradition and likely done in the Middle East.


Perani has for two decades been head of the Italian Genizah project, which locates and catalogues fragments of Hebrew manuscripts in Italy. Genizah is the Hebrew word for the room in a synagogue where religious books or papers are stored. The Genizah project has found, photographed and catalogued some 13,000 fragments of Jewish compositions from various branches of Talmudic literature, Biblical commentary, Jewish thought, the Hebrew language and Jewish history. For his work in Jewish studies, Perani is due to be given an honorary degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem next month.

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Jeremy Sharon

Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2013


A team of computer scientists and programmers in Jerusalem, working in collaboration with Tel Aviv University, says it has achieved a breakthrough in piecing together the disparate fragments of the Cairo Geniza. Prof. Ya’acov Choueka, a Cairo-born chief computerization scientist, is leading a team of 15 programmers from the Friedberg Geniza Project, which is collaborating with Tel Aviv University to “solve the problem” of genizas, or Jewish archives, by scanning the contents of 67 geniza collections around the world.


His team has been able to make more matches between fragments in a matter of weeks than researchers have using traditional methods over the course of decades. For the past century, scholars have gleaned a wealth of information from the documents discovered in the Cairo Geniza, but research has been hampered by the fact that they were found in pieces and were subsequently split among dozens of collections. Scholars seeking to piece together the documents have been forced to travel to far flung locales and attempt to make the scraps of paper fit together by hand, a long and cumbersome process.


The Cairo Geniza was the archive of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, a suburb of Cairo until it was swallowed by the Egyptian capital’s urban sprawl. The documents there were in large part carted off to England, and Cambridge owns some 60 percent of them. For over a thousand years, sacred texts were deposited in the storeroom, as well as documents attesting to the day-to-day life of medieval Jewish and Arab residents of the Middle East and North Africa. Included were many original manuscripts, variant texts of the Talmud and letters from ordinary people.


Following agreements with Cambridge University and other institutions, Choueka and his team scanned hundreds of thousands of fragments at high resolution, enabling his team to perform more than 4 billion comparisons. Using several large networked computer clusters at Tel Aviv University, his Jerusalem-based team was “reconstructing the original geniza,” he said on Thursday.


Using several algorithms, his team aims to find all of the “joints,” or matches between fragments, within two weeks. The results of the research were being posted online at genizah.org for public viewing by academics and laymen alike, revolutionizing the study of the geniza documents, he said. Physical attributes of the documents are measured by the computers, and fragments from the same pages, and even by the same author, can be paired together. The results of the research are to be presented at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies, to be held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from July 28 to August 1.


Not every institution has been cooperative, he said. According to Choueka, the University of Oxford has been unwilling to provide scans of its manuscripts that are incredibly important to his work. Talks with the university “did not come to a happy end,” he said, adding that he did not know why. Oxford did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


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Sue Fishkoff

JTA, Apr. 27, 2013


May 9 marks the 60th anniversary of V-Day, the date in 1945 when Nazi Germany capitulated.

Nowhere has it been as resolutely commemorated each year as in the former Soviet Union, which lost a staggering 25 million citizens during what is still called the Great Patriotic War. Of approximately 11,000 World War II veterans still alive in the southern Russian capital of Rostov-on-Don today, 211 are Jewish.


Three of those Jewish soldiers marched in the great Victory Day parade in Moscow's Red Square on June 24, 1945. One was 90-year-old Leonid Abelich Klevitsky, a tall, white-haired man of erect bearing who heads the city's Jewish war veterans association. "It was the day before my 20th birthday," he told JTA in an interview conducted during last year's Victory Day celebration. "I'd been celebrating all night, and almost fell flat on my face in Red Square."


When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Klevitsky was a student in a prestigious military academy. He graduated in time to fight on the Ukrainian front and took part in the bombing of Berlin. "I never understood my Judaism," he says of his upbringing. "I had a Marxist-Leninist education in the military academy. And only because I was Jewish, I got a 'D' instead of an 'A' because I corrected the teacher when he quoted Stalin wrong." After a 25-year career in the army, in 1967 Klevitsky retired, and he and his wife moved back to Rostov. He became head of the city's Jewish war veterans association when it was founded six years ago.


Rostov-on-Don lies just over the border from Ukraine, right in the path of the 1941 Nazi onslaught. Few of the city's 20,000 Jews fled the advancing German forces. Rostov's Jews were urbanized, and many had studied in German universities. Their diplomas didn't help them. On Aug. 11, 1942, the city's Jewish men were marched to a ravine outside the city and shot; the women, children and elderly were gassed in trucks, and their bodies buried in the same ravine, called Zmiyovskaya Balka, or the ravine of the snakes. Communists and Red Army soldiers also were killed and buried there, along with their families.


Altogether, some 27,000 bodies lie in the grass-covered ravine, which has become the site of annual memorial ceremonies. Some of Rostov's Jews, both men and women, escaped the massacre because they were serving in the Soviet Army. The biggest day of the year for these veterans is the festive luncheon the city's Jewish community hosts for them every May. Last year's event, held May 7 in Rostov's historic synagogue, drew more than 100 aging veterans, all wearing their medals with pride. "Everyone who can walk is here today," Klevitsky said.


One of those who could not attend was his own wife, bedridden for three years. “I love her so," he said. The couple was married 53 years earlier in a civil ceremony. Now that Rostov has a Chabad rabbi, Klevitsky and his wife want to have a Jewish ceremony. But the rabbi told them they'd have to go to the mikvah, or ritual bath, Klevitsky said, adding defiantly, "I won't go."


He was in a buoyant mood all afternoon, displaying his veteran's ID card to anyone who showed the least interest. The feast was a typical Russian affair, with lengthy speeches by the heads of every relevant organization, as well as the requisite appearance by the city's deputy mayor. The vodka and champagne flowed, toasts were made, and there was cheek-to-cheek dancing to 1940s-era tunes.


But the lavish spread stood in ironic contrast to these honoured war veterans' stark financial situation. Like elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, these men and women who laboured all their lives for the Soviet state, expecting to be taken care of in their old age, are now penniless, scraping by on meagre pensions, unable to pay for medical care, clothing or food.


According to figures from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union through its Hesed welfare agencies, more than half of southern Russia's 66,000 Jews are older than 50. Twenty-five percent live below the poverty line. At the end of last year's Victory Day feast, some of those elderly poor were wrapping up cookies and bread rolls to take home to their empty cupboards….Ilya Gorensteyn, a local bigwig who made his money in construction, was one of them. "I donated the bottled water, a guy who owns a fish plant gave the fish, the owner of a vodka plant gave the vodka," he said, pointing down the line of business leaders seated at the head table. Gorensteyn said he knows of many other newly wealthy Jewish men in Rostov, but "unfortunately, not many of them are willing to give."


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The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican: R. Benjamin Blech, Orthodox Union, May 1, 2012 (YouTube video) — Rabbi Benjamin Blech tells the fascinating story of how Michelangelo embedded messages of Judaism in his painting to encourage "fellow travelers" to challenge the repressive Roman Catholic Church of his time.


BDS Movement Suffers Defeat in SEC Divestment Battle: Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Jewish Press, May 30th, 2013 — Shurat HaDin sent a warning letter to TIAA-CREF last month informing its leadership that the boycott resolution was a violation of both federal and New York State law

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