Josh Nathan-Kazis
The Jewish Daily Forward
November 5, 2010 - 12:00am

Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed the Obama administration’s support for Israel in an address to the opening plenary of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. At a convention marked by its focus on defending Israel, Biden spoke at length about his personal ties to the Jewish state and its leaders, and emphasized the administration’s support for JFNA’s newly announced efforts to combat what it calls the delegitimization of Israel.
“I absolutely guarantee, as long as there’s a breath in me, this government, this nation, will stand with Israel,” Biden said. “It’s in our own naked self-interest, beyond the massive moral necessity.”
After a day of workshops which had included two panels on efforts to delegitimize Israel, Biden said that the Israel Action Network, the new multi-million dollar effort of the JFNA and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to combat the movement to divest from Israel, was “so important and so appreciated by the President and me.”
“Efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by unshakeable opposition by the United States of America,” Biden said.
Biden spoke about his longstanding personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak to the General Assembly on Monday. Biden said that, during the diplomatic incident that erupted during his visit to Israel in March – when the Israeli government announced new settlement construction – he met with Netanyahu at the prime minister’s home. The two “worked it out as friends and brothers,” Biden said.
Biden said that he and Netanyahu met in New Orleans today. “We spent an hour or so together talking about our relationship and the future of the great State of Israel,” Biden said.
According to Forward Washington correspondent Nathan Guttman, who attended an Israeli government press briefing in Hebrew earlier this afternoon, Biden and Netanyahu spoke about peace negotiations, and about sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu reportedly told Biden that the sanctions were having an effect, but that the perception that a military option is on the table is important to maintain.
In his talk to the General Assembly, Biden said with regard to Iran “the door to diplomacy remains open,” but said that “we are also absolutely committed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The line was greeted with heavy applause.
Biden put particular emphasis on ensuring the audience of the importance the administration places on its relationship with Israel. Saying that he wanted to dispel “myths” about the Obama administration, Biden cited increased aid to Israel for missile defense programs and large-scale joint military exercised undertaken since Obama’s inauguration.
Biden was followed by David Simon, creator of the HBO hit The Wire and, more recently, Treme. Simon spoke about the distance between the Jewish and black communities, and what he saw as the lack of philanthropic support from Jews while he was researching his book, “The Corner”, over a decade ago in West Baltimore. Calling the plight of the black community in Baltimore a “holocaust in slow motion,” Simon implored Jews to give outside of the Jewish community. He complimented the federations for their financial support for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Simon said that he would donate his speaking fee to a New Orleans health organization benefiting musicians.
As Curtain Rises, Focus on Volunteerism and Defense of Israel is Clear

November 7, 2010, 11:00 AM
Bruchim Habayim: A story-high sign in front of the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans welcomes delegates to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
As over three thousand Jews arrive in downtown New Orleans for the first full day of the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the themes of the three-day conference are already clear.
Much has been made of the social service projects scheduled for the second day of the conference – a first for the General Assembly. But a second focus has also emerged in this town known more for the debauchery of Bourbon Street and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina than for sober policy debates: the Jewish communal response to the international movement to boycott and divest from Israel, known as BDS.
A full five sessions at the conference are set to be dedicated to conversations about what is referred to here as the delegitimization movement. Speakers at the sessions include Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, conservative strategist Frank Luntz, and Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Although a speaker affiliated with AIPAC and another with the right-leaning Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs are scheduled to appear on the panels, there are no representatives of left-wing groups like J Street or Americans for Peace Now.
The focus on delegitimization is tied to the October launch of the Israel Action Network, a multi-million dollar initiative of the JFNA and the JCPA that will “fight back against growing efforts to delegitimize and demonize the state of Israel,” according to a press release.
Stay tuned to this space for much more on this issue.
Meanwhile, the scale of the operation here is impressive. Among the billboards along the highway from the airport advertising French Quarter strip clubs, one welcomed the GA’s convention-goers.
“The GA this year is a great example of change,” said JFNA president Jerry Silverman at a conference session early Sunday morning. “We want a whole new energy to raise the bar of the GA.”
Silverman said that 600 college students are attending the conference through Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
In the main exhibition hall on Saturday evening, singer Neshama Carlebach performed a Havdalah concert before benches arranged to resemble the JFNA’s circular logo. In what appears to be a fortuitous coincidence, the city is currently plastered with advertisements for a traveling performance of “Soul Doctor,” a musical about her father, Jewish liturgical music legend Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the convention this morning, although he is not scheduled to speak until tomorrow. Vice President Joe Biden will speak at the conferences opening plenary, which will be held at 4:15 this afternoon

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