LIVE BLOG: The GA Conference as It Happens

A minute-by-minute update from the 2011 Jewish Federations General Assembly in Denver, Colorado.

November 8, 2011

2:30 P.M.: Author of Start-Up Nation says "Israel is not a conflict, Israel is a country"

2:20 P.M.: Judy Gross, wife of Alan Gross, talks about "incredible suffering" of her family, calls him "primarily a humanitarian with the goal of improving the lives of people."

2:09 P.M.: Closing plenary session of GA to be followed by JFNA Board of Trustees meeting that is likely to adopt Global Planning Table plan, a new blueprint about deliberations and decisions on allocation of funds. Jewish Agency and JOINT people are concerned this will mean less income for their organizations, says Chemi Shalev.

12:12 A.M.: Chemi Shalev remarks: As panel approaches end, it is clear that the people who think that those who oppose Israeli policies should be excluded from debate - and they are many - are not represented in this discussion, or at least have not spoken out.

12:10 A.M.: Firestone: There is a need for a new inclusive curriculum for talking about Israel.

Beinart: There should be no program for the American Jewish community without Palestinian voices.

12:03 A.M.: Moving comment from student about how she feels "betrayed" at having been taught things about Israel by Jewish establishment that turned out not to be true.

12:00 A.M.:  Beinart says that using the term "UDI" is some PR person's way of trying to equate Palestinian quest for independence with white Rhodesia's UDI (in 1965), according to Chemi Shalev. Calling the attempt for recognition at UN, where 150 states may recognize Palestinian independence as "unilateral" is intellectually dishonest.

ga - Natasha Mozgovaya - November 6 2011
Natasha Mozgovaya

11:53 A.M.: Bernstein: We're having this conversation at the JFNA about Peter Beinart's article, and I hope that you can all have this conversation at your synagogue as well.

11:50 A.M.: Beinart: I support young people going to Israel, but they should see all of Israel, including people who are living under occupation.

11:36 A.M.: Beinart: Delegitimization will grow as Israel is perceived to not living up to its own principles of democracy. Democracy is the language of our time. If Israel turns less democratic, you can get 100 PR firms, but you will not stem the tide of people who will think that establishing the Jewish state was a mistake.

11:35 A.M.: Julie Bernstein, Associate Managing Director of Israel Action Network says dealing with people who deny Israel's right to exist is the easy part of the job. It's the internal tension inside the Jewish community, Jews attacking Jews, that keeps her up at night.

11:17 A.M.: Beinart: If you want to have a conversation with "Israelis" - what about Arab Israelis, or even Palestinians who have lived under Israeli occupation for 44 years? When you say "Israelis" there is a hidden assumption that you're talking about Jewish Israelis.

11:13 A.M.: Firestone: Israelis should be up here with us on this panel. They are not an object of this conversation, they are part of it, they are our mishpocha (family).

11:07 A.M.: Beinart: too often there is confusion between being pro-Israel and support for the policies of the Israeli government. If Israel won't be both a Jewish and Democratic state, it will not survive. I support the Israel whose principles are embodied in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Are you going to exclude the descendents of Martin Buber and Yehuda Magnes from the community table?

11:02 A.M.: Wayne Firestone, President and CEO of Hillel, speaks on panel with Beinart, according to Chemi Shalev. "People are no longer infatuated with Israel of Leon Uris' Exodus, but young people are coming back - and falling in love."

11:59 A.M.: American Jews are the richest and most Jewishly illterate in the world.

11:50 A.M.: Peter Beinart says there are two different crises in the community: a distancing from Judaism and a distancing from Israel, says Chemi Shalev. Of course, the first influences the second.

11:02 A.M.: Peter Beinart, former editor of the New Republic and author of the controversial June 2010 article The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, is up next, says Chemi Shalev. He is probably the biggest "celebrity" to attend this year's GA. A woman could be overheard saying: "Beinart? I don't like Peter Beinart. But he's a big name so I guess he's worth hearing."

10:44 A.M.: Mofaz says that the main question on Iranian strike is what happens the day after, according to Natasha Mosgovaya. "We have to take into consideration that the day after there will be a regional war in the Middle East, and we'll see the war with long-range missiles used against Israel. It will be a very long war.

According to Chemi Shalev, Mofaz receives a warm reception from audience, not least of which, because he is the most senior Israeli representative here. Participants at GA have been noting the absence of any government minister, so Mofaz has at least minimized some of the insult. His English has greatly improved in recent years, though his accent is still the grating Israeli accent of members of his generation. Though people have expressed puzzlement at the fact that he chose to come at such a time (mainly due to internal politics within Kadima) he has probably made inroads into the American Jewish consciousness by coming to GA.

10:41 A.M.: Mofaz: We are strong, we are right, we believe in our way.

10:39 A.M.: Mofaz to the GA: You and your families are an integral part of the State of Israel, and your commitment to its security and its future is one of its cornerstones. We cannot take such generosity for granted, especially during these challenging economic times.

10:37 A.M.: Mofaz: We cannot relax our vigilance nor compromise on fight against terrorism.

10:36 A.M.: Mofaz says time is not on Israel's side, and warns of the possibility of a binational state, says Chemi Shalev. 

10:32 A.M.: Mofaz: For 18 years since Oslo we tried to agree on the details and didn't succeed. The only way forwad is through an interim agreement. The first phase - borders and security. And we are very close to an agreement on these. Second phase is Jerusalem, refugees, etc. Today the gaps are very wide.

10:31 A.M.: Mofaz:To my regret the current government in Israel has not been able to find a way to go on with negotiations.It is the blatant violation of the Oslo agreements. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have to accept the Quartet offer, there is no time to waste.

10:28 A.M.: Israel must be prepared to deal militarily with the Iranian program, but it's the last and worst choice among the alternatives. The international community led by the US has to do everything to stop it. This is the acid test of Obama's foreign policy. Israel cannot be the scapegoat of the free world.

10:26 A.M.: Mofaz states that Iranian nuclear weapons are the most serious threat to the peace of the free world, according to Natasha Mosgovaya. This threat, which is not just Israel's problem, becomes more real by the hour, and cannot be allowed.

10:23 A.M.: Mofaz: In Egypt the events toppled the short-term stability in the region, and the Sinai Peninsula became the base for weapons smuggling. In Syria I believe the revolution won't be stopped. A regime that slaughters its citizens will eventually crumble and fall.

10:21 A.M.: Mofaz states that the activists are young, better educated, and the unemployment among them is high, according to Natasha Mosgovaya. It is too early to analyze the implications of the Arab spring. In his opinion, it will take 10-15 years before we see real stability in the Arab world.

10:18 A.M.: The speaker who introduces Shaul Mofaz mentions the report on Sarkozy calling Netanyahu a "liar", along with Obama's rather unsympathetic comments, says Natasha Mosgovaya. Interesting, he says, that this is what the two leaders chose to discuss.

10:16 A.M.: "Talk of the town" in Denver this morning is the report about Sarkozy-Obama conversation regarding Bibi, says Chemi Shalev. The Jews, one might say, are not very pleased...

Shaul Mofaz, Chairman of the Knesset's Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, is the highest ranking representative to come from Israel to the General Assembly, after PM Netanyahu and Deputy PM Shalom cancelled. He is set to speak in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, one woman in a round table discussion says that the Obama-Sarkozy conversation proves just how much there is a campaign against Israel...

9:42 A.M.: The final day of the GA opened a short while ago, says Lior Kodner. A large portion of the attendants left over the course of the night or during the morning. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Jewish Federation begins preparing for the 2012 GA.

November 7, 2011

04:14 MK Einat Wilf attends Israel Project reception.

04:08 Natasha Mozgovaya: After plenary closes, multiple receptions take place, including "Rocky Mountain schmoozing".

03:59 Natasha Mozgovaya: LGBT community holds its first ever reception at the GA, sponsored by 9 Jewish federations.

02:17 Natasha Mozgovaya: Michael Oren added he hopes Israel with the rest of the world will succeed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon.

02:15 Natasha Mozgovaya: Shapiro stressed today the relationship between the countries stronger than ever, that they are fully coordinated about central issues, including Iran.

02:04 Dan Shapiro: "I arrived in Israel shortly after the demonstrations in Israel began. We had no official position on domestic issues for Israel, but it really underscored the bond between the two democratic societies, the U.S. and Israel."

01:58 Michael Oren: "I have a dream one day me and Dan will witness signing an agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors on the South Lawn"

01:48 Ambassadors Dan Shapiro and Michael Oren address GA.

01:41 Chemi Shalev: Strangely edited video address by PM Netanyahu to GA plenary. Speaks about Arab Spring but not about Iran or Palestinians. Emphasizes Israel celebrates life while others celebrate "the cult of death".

01:38 Netanyahu: "As we face challenges ahead, let's us draw strength from this unity."

01:36 Netanyahu: "Jews around the world celebrated the return of the only Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. That's how we feel towards life - we celebrate it."

01:33 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in video addresses to GA: "Your generosity created a better Israel over here. you worked to make Israel central to the Jewish lives in the Diaspora. I reaffirm my commitment to ensure Israel is a place that each and every one of you can call home."

01:18 Natasha Mozgovaya: Sharansky tells Jewish community in the US needs 100000 young leaders. "We can't afford to reach less."

01:16 Chemi Shalev: Hats off to JFNA for great GA app, functional, nicely-designed and easy to use.

01:14 More: "The real changes will happen only if there is a core of the young American Jews who are proud of their identity and connections to Israel. They are the real agents of change. We need approximately 1 million Jews scattered all over the communities with strong Jewish identity. we need 100000 young leaders. It's not so difficult with young leadership programs."

01:12 Sharansky continues: "In the Former Soviet Union in the last few years I accompanied you to some of the summer camps. What impressed us most is that third generation of the Jews discovered their identity not with my stories, but via encounter with Jews of their generation."

01:10 Sharansky: "Our obligation is to guarantee the future of the Jewish people. This change cannot be brought only by us, It can be brought only if we have the army of young Jewish leaders devoted to this cause."

01:08 Chemi Shalev: Natan Sharansky quotes report from GA on Israel having become a"hard sell" in fundraising, saying that at same time hundreds of thousands of young American Jews are coming to Israel on Masa, Birthright and the like.

01:07 Natasha Mozgovaya: The Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky comes to speak, people raise to their feet to greet him. "There is another article it's tough to sell Israel. The best way to sell Jewishness to the young generation is to bring them to Israel".

01:04 Natasha Mozgovaya: IDF officer Adi Gigi talks about her army experience (first woman to serve as electronics officer on navy ship, in charge of 20 men, Lebanon War in 2006; operation Cast Lead in Gaza); talks about the "Birthright" trip. "Taglit" changed my perspective, she said.

01:00 The daily plenary opens.

12:09: Two big Denver policemen at entrance to Town Hall meeting, reports Chemi Shalev. Unclear if they are here because of the topic - polarization of community - or rumors that "Occupy Denver" people intend to make a scene.

12:06: Barry Schrage, Chairman of Combined Jewish Philanthropies: Community is not that polarized. Any rabbi who refuses to talk about Israel is a coward. There is no room in the community for people who support BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions)

11:58: Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, founder and executive director of Encounter, a group dedicated a more civil discourse aobut Israel in the Jewish community: Enormous polarization in the community. Dangers within no less great than danger without. Dialogue has become toxic. Many forums and rabbis are now refraining from talking about Israel at all. "If I talk about Israel I will get fired," one rabbi told me.

11:52: Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin says that in the Jewish community we are very good at telling each other to shut up. We have a lot of Bolsheviks on both the left and the right. Cites BDS as reason, nonetheless, to "concentrate on main battle" and to thus put aside the internal left versus right battle about the conflict, settlements etc.

11:40: In How Big a Tent Do We Need, a town-hall meeting on the highly-charged issue of dissent in the Jewish community and who should be included or excluded from the Jewish big tent because of their political views, one speaker says: I am so deeply pained by how our community has been shutting down debate and dissenting views, says Chemi Shalev.

Audience appears to be evenly divided on whether to invite a Christian Zionist to speak before the community, perhaps with slight majority to those who would, and just as divided on whether to invite Israeli who describes himself as Zionist, but advocates boycott of products made in the territories, again with slight majority to those who would.

Another, on inviting Christian Zionists into the tent: They are our allies but we should keep our distance  On not inviting the pro-boycott Israeli: he may be giving food for thought for people who are not Israeli.

10:48: MK Wilf to Jewish students on university campuses: Stop being nice. We are the losing side.

10:40: Cotler: Referring to issue of Israel as a "wedge issue" Turning Israel into a partisan issue in America weakens the battle against delegitimization.

MK Wilf: Israeli Knesset is far too tolerant of deviant MK's who fight Israel from within. People who blame the prime minister are damaging our cause.

10:24: Canadian Professor Irwin Cotler speaks at delegitimization discussion, says Chemi Shalev. Says the camapaign to delegitimize Israel reaches "critical mass" at the United Nations. "Human Rights" has become a liberal, secular religion and Israel is perceived as the main blasphemer. At UN and Human Rights Council there is an Alice in Wonderland process where Israel is convicted without having a hearing. Delegitimization of Israel demeans the real struggle against apartheid and racism.

10:09: MacShane says that negative sayings about Jews that were unsayable and almost unthinkable when he was growing up, in Britain, are now being said out in the open.

10:04: British Labour MP Denis MacShane at delegitimization discussion: "I was once asked to audition for the movie 'The Full Monty' but it turned out I didn't have a big enough part."

9:58: According to Wilf, American Jews are admired for their progressive, liberal values and some American Jews feel that Israel ruins it for them. But in order to be a more moral person, Jews need to engage with Israel and its full moral complexity and dilemmas.

9:53: MK Einat Wilf (Atzmaut) discusses delegitimization of Israel, says Chemi Shalev. Wilf states that for a long time, Israel politicians viewed this issue as "fluffy, girly stuff," and proposes the establishment of the "Israeli Intellectual Defense Forces."

MK Einat Wilf in discussion of delegitimization: For a long time Israeli politicians viewed this issue as "fluffy, girly stuff".

9:28: First demonstration outside the conference hotel in Denver, says Lior Kodner. About 6 people are holding signs that read: Rabbis rape kids; Israel is doomed.

9:15: Aharoni tells a joke: A man came ffrom Europe to Ben Gurion airport with two bags. "What do you have in the bags?" he is asked by the customs official. "Money that I raised for Israel," the man replies. "Open it up" says the official. The man opened up one bag and inside were hundreds of small bills and coins. "This is money that you raised for Israel?," asks the incredulous customs man. "Yes," replies the man. "How?" asks the official. "With this knife", says the man, taking out a switchblade, "What I do is that come up to people with a knife and threaten them that if they don't give me money for Israel I will cut off their nose." "Seriously?" asks the incredulous customs official. "And what do you have in the other bag? he then asked."Well, you won't believe how many people in Europe refuse to give money to Israel..." the man replied.

9:00: Aharoni thinks Israel should avoid "twinning" with Palestinians, says Natasha Mosgovaya. Why would Leonard Cohen go to perform in Ramallah? How many Palestinians listen to him? People see Israel only through the prism of the conflict.Tel-Aviv's competition should not be Ramallah, but Barcelona.

8:56: Aharoni says that some of the Hasbara strategies discussed should be kept under wraps, says Chemi Shalev.

8:51: Consul General in New York Ido Aharoni speaks about discourse on Israel, says Natasha Mosgovaya. Aharoni says there is a 'fatigue' of the conflict, and that Israel needs to be communicated through the lens of cultural diversity, dance, music, and films.

8:40: Gilad Perry, one of the leaders of Israel's social protest movement now speaking at Israeli Forum, says Lior Kodner. Says movement never turned violent, and that social justice is a central pillar of Judaism.

08:30: Israeli Consul General in New York in entertaining a talk on "changing the conversation," says Chemi Shalev. The eternal and possibly futile search for a magical formula that will solve Israel's Hasbara (public relations) problems...

08:27: Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn is now talking at the Israeli Forum, a packed session, says Lior Kodner. He is comparing the Rothschild tent encampments to the Occupy Wall Street movement. "Israel doesn't want political change, we want the right-wing Sharon to stop occupation, and the liberal Netanyahu to return to socialism," he says.

November 6, 2011

6:52 P.M.: Benn: The main victim of the social protest on Rothschild Blvd. was the Kadima party.

6:47 P.M.: Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn: "I don't think the bombing in Iran will happen tomorrow, but Bibi and Barak are serious about it."

6:38 P.M.: Aluf Benn at the event. The debate about Iran is in the open. When you talk about this too much, it could make the government act.

5:57 P.M.: Haaretz event starts now at the Mix bar in Denver, Co. The editor in chief, Aluf Benn, will talk about Israel, Iran and Jewish affairs.

5:45 P.M.: Jewish Agency presenters at Makom theatre workshop on "The Big Blue Tent and Jewish Dissent": Acrimony in internal Jewish debate is increasing just as assault on Israel's legitimacy is escalating. Discourse is being taken over by "ideological purists."

5:00 P.M.: Chemi Shalev reports that Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's defense of President Obama's record on Israel draws only polite applause from plenary audience.

4:20 P.M.: Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, speaks at length at the GA about President Obama's support of Israel: "Many of you received mails distorting the President's record on Israel. Once you hear the facts I urge you to spread the truth President Obama made it undeniably clear, in front of the entire world, that any approach outside direct negotiations was unacceptable."

4:40 P.M.: Natasha Mozgovaya reports delegates are on their way to the opening plenary.

3:10 P.M.: Lior Kodner reports the opening ceremony just started under the headline "The Jewish Federation - the original Jewish social network."

11:29 A.M.: Chemi Shalev quotes Misha Galperin, CEO and President of Jewish Agency International Development: discussion of local needs vs. Israel and Overseas is an outdated remnant of the historical split between UJA, set up by East European Jews to raise funds for Israel and communities abroad, and Federations, set up by German Jews to raise local funds. We need to change the paradigm and discuss the needs of the Jewish people as a whole.

11:27 A.M.: Round tables on how to convince the young to fight for Israel's right to exist, says Lior Kodner.

11:15 A.M.: Alan Edelman of Kansas City Federation in discussion of Global Planning Table: Israel and Overseas agenda of Federations could use kick in the pants. Representative of New Jersey Federation: Our young people dont know where Israel is on the map." Interesting discussion of local needs versus overseas: one participant said "American Jewish community is most affluent in the world, yet they are blind to situation of poor Jews around the world," reports Chemi Shalev.

10:56. A.M.: The Jewish Federation are starting to prepare and to raise money for supporting the aging baby boomers, says Lior Kodner.

10:55 A.M.: Now the participants are singing sixties songs, says Lior Kodner.

10:50 A.M.: Funny session on baby boomers generation, says Lior Kodner, head of the Haaretz digital department, and offers some trivia questions: The public knew who sent the first satellite to space (the USSR). Until 2020, 25 percent of the Jews in the U.S. will be older than 65.

10:34 A.M.: Sitting on the JFNA Israel and Overseas Institute session where the discussion is about the Global Planning Table, possibly the most controversial issue at this years GA, says Chemi Shalev. Among other things, the plan would restructure allocation of funds between Federations and Israel. It has been endorsed by JFNAs Executive Committee but is opposed by some of the Federations.

10:06 A.M.: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled his appearance at the GA, says Haaretz NYC correspondent Chemi Shalev, then his replacement Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom also cancelled. The rumors about the reasons range from the commemoration ceremonies of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination to "important decisions" regarding Iran. Ambassador Michael Oren will apparently be the most senior representative of the Israeli government. Netanyahu will appear by video conference.

8:30 A.M.: The GA conference is about to kick off, says Lior Kodner, Haaretz Digital Director. Haaretz's team of senior correspondents, including editor in chief Aluf Benn, Chemi Shalev, Natasha Mozgovaya and Lior Kodner, will be updating from the conference over the next three days.

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