The United Jewish Communities General Assembly [GA] opened here Sunday evening with a resolute Tzipi Livni saying that the time has come for the international community to put aside its financial interests in Iran and work together to stop Teheran's drive to attain nuclear capability. "Iran denies the Holocaust and seeks the weapons to perpetrate one. If the promise of 'Never Again' supersedes the price of oil then the time for international indifference and hesitation in the face of the Iranian threat has long passed," the Foreign Minister said. Livni received a standing ovation by GA delegates at the conclusion of her remarks.
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China and Russia have substantial, and growing, financial deals with Iran: Russia is building the Bushehr nuclear reactor, and China has recently signed a multi-billion dollar petroleum acquisition contract with Iran to power its booming industrial development. Both nations have steadfastly blocked US efforts in the Security Council to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian regime in light of its rejection to halt uranium enrichment.
"Last summer, we experienced a confrontation between Israel and Iran. Though the war took place in Lebanon, it was the case of a rogue state, Iran, and its proxy, the Hizbullah, abusing a weak state, Lebanon, to advance a radical and hate-filled agenda," Livni said.
At a briefing with Israeli journalists following her speech, Livni told The Jerusalem Post that Iran was less than two years away from reaching the point where it could enrich uranium, what she, and others, have termed "the point of no return" where Iran would need no outside technical or material assistance to produce nuclear weapons. The point of no return, in Israel's case, is not when Iran "gets the bomb", but when it has reached the capability of producing one.
Israel was also worried that possible Security Council sanctions on Iran won't be effective enough to make Teheran change course and cease enrichment, Livni added.
Several Israeli ministers are in attendance at this year's GA, who's theme is "Together On The Front Line: One People, One Destiny." The message from the ministers, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog and Education Minister Yuli Tamir, will first and foremost be one of thanks to US Jewry for their financial, physical, and moral support during and after the latest war in Lebanon. "I came here to say thank you. It is important for us to know that we are not alone. During the war we saw our Jewish brothers and sisters stepping up to help - organizing rallies, coming on solidarity missions, university scholarships for students called up for army duty, air-conditioners for bomb shelters, camps for the children of the North and so much more, contributing with extraordinary generosity and thoughtfulness - with unconditional kindness," Livni said.
The foreign minister also addressed the issue of ties between Israel and the Diaspora, saying there was a need to foster the relationship and not take it for granted.
"As an Israeli, I have to ask myself whether we are not in danger of creating a new Israeli identity that feels removed from its Jewish heritage, and a result, from the Jewish Diaspora. I am sure too that you ask yourselves whether there is a risk that Jewish identity in the Diaspora is evolving in such a way that the deep connection to Israel may, in time, no longer be one of its central pillars. I believe strongly that we share a responsibility to prevent a rift developing between Israeli identity and Jewish identity. Together, we need to ensure that Jewish children throughout the Diaspora see Israel as their home, just as the Jewish children of Israel must see you as their family," Livni said.
Livni also wished all the newly elected and returning members of Congress "Mazal Tov" and said the special relationship between Israel and the United States crosses party lines.
Also speaking at the event, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielsky said US Jews "were there for us [Israelis] when we needed you." Bielsky added that due to financial assistance from the Jewish Federations, and through the UJC, the Jewish Agency was able to evacuate 40,000 Israeli children from "the line of fire in the North" to the center of the country.
Bielsky added that there were plans in the works to provide scholarships to students wishing to study in educational institutions in northern Israel. "Our priority now is to strengthen the Galilee, the Negev and Jerusalem," Bielsky said.
The UJC managed to raise $342 million for the Israel Emergency Campaign during the war.
The plenary session drew 2,600 of 5,000 GA participants, and culminated with a stirring recital of "Hatikvah," Israel's national anthem, by a jazz saxophonist, that brought the crowd to its feet, singing.
The plenary also featured an array of political and public leaders and entertainment figures, including actors Jeff Goldblum, Mare Winningham and Jon Voight; screenwriter and filmmaker Dan Gordon; musicians Debbie Friedman, Mike Burstyn, Julie Silver and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.