Kazakhstan rabbi lobbies in D.C.

Kazakhstan’s chief rabbi lobbied in Washington for favorable trade status for the Caucasus nation.

Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, in the United States to attend a Chabad-Lubavitch conference in New York, met Tuesday and Wednesday with top congressional members. They included Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and officials in the State Department and the White House.

Cohen told JTA he lobbied to remove Kazakhstan from the requirements of Jackson-Vanik, the 1970s era legislation that ties trade status to human rights progress. Lantos is known to view Jackson-Vanik as outmoded, although human rights groups say its provisions, effective in protecting Soviet-era Jews, are still relevant.

Officials at NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia met with Cohen and helped him plot a program to graduate Kazakhstan from Jackson-Vanik.

“Kazahkstan is a safe and secure environment, and there is almost no anti-Semitism,” NCSJ director Mark Levin told JTA.

State Department reports have noted a generally free religious environment in Kazakhstan, although the reports also describe restrictions on democratic activity, the lack of an independent judiciary and restrictions on basic freedoms including speech, the press and assembly.

Cohen also lobbied for Kazakhstan’s leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009. The OSCE coordinates security in Europe; the United States is a leading member.

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