Dec 14, 2023  By Debbie Peskin  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Good Meets Evil in Denver

I attended the Jewish National Fund-USA Global Conference for Israel in Denver from Thursday, November 30 through Sunday, December 3. I was joined by my husband, David, several other TBE members, and others from our area and CT who were representing our JNF-USA Southern New England Board. This was the largest conference in JNF-USA’s history, with 2,500 attendees from around the US, Canada, and Israel.

Prior to October 7, the conference was planned to showcase the many areas in which Jewish National Fund-USA affiliates (partners) work to improve the land of Israel and its citizens. Following October 7, the conference switched its focus, with all the sessions centered on rebuilding the devastated areas in the south and combating antisemitism, taking on a somber tone. There were many excellent sessions to choose from, including Israel and the Media; the Weaponization of the UN Against Israel; Mastering Pro-Israel Advocacy in the social media Arena, Countering Anti-Zionism on Campus, and many more. We heard from world-class and inspiring speakers, including Colorado Governor Jared Polis; Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN; and Michael Oren, Israel’s former Ambassador to the US and bestselling author. Click here for Michael Oren’s uplifting speech (his remarks begin at 5:39).

There was an overwhelming sense of solidarity with Israel and pride in her many accomplishments. The Israelis who were there were mostly those who worked for JNF-USA affiliates—although many were unable to attend due to the war. They expressed deep appreciation to us for being there together, for all of JNF-USA’s work, and to the US government for its support. Many tears were shed throughout the conference, but there was a palpable sense of being loved and supported, of a deep commitment to each other, and hope for a better future.

Ofir Liebstein – An Israeli Hero
I had the privilege of meeting several heroes at the conference, such as one of the participants of the 1976 Entebbe raid, a survivor of the Supernova music festival slaughter, and several IDF soldiers on leave from duty in Gaza or the north. One hero whose story was highlighted during the conference was one of the 1200 civilians who were massacred on October 7. I had the opportunity to meet his family members and hug them as tears streamed down my face.

Ofir Liebstein served as mayor of the Shar’ar Hanegev Regional Council, a community that sits on the Gaza border. JNF worked very closely with Ofir, who spent his entire career working to improve the lives of Israelis in the area, as well as Palestinians in Gaza.

On October 7, Ofir woke to the sound of gunfire in his home on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and ran out of his house, fighting bravely to protect his family and neighbors. He was killed by Hamas terrorists, along with his young son, mother-in-law, and many others in his community.

When he was murdered, Ofir was working on an ambitious project that would have created 10,000 new jobs for Palestinians from Gaza, as well as a plan that would have provided renewable energy for the Gaza Strip from solar panels. Among his prior accomplishments was a project to bring fresh water into Gaza, and he had already installed pipes along the Gaza Strip, which Hamas dug up and used to make rockets. Click here for a short tribute to Ofir and his legacy.

Ofir was an Israeli hero who worked tirelessly to create hope and a better life for the Palestinians in Gaza, yet that made no difference to the Hamas murderers.

Witnessing Hate First-Hand

On November 14, I attended the March for Israel in Washington, DC, along with approximately 290,000 other pro-Israel supporters. I was so relieved that there were no protests or acts of violence, and that the rally was so peaceful. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case at JNF-USA Global Conference.

The conference was held in the Convention Center, located across the street from the hotel where the attendees were staying. The Denver police had set up temporary metal fencing to separate us from other pedestrians which ran between the sidewalk alongside the hotel, across the street (which was blocked so no traffic could come near), and up to the Convention Center. At times, few were present, but at other times, hundreds of violent pro-Hamas protesters stood outside the hotel door to greet us in the morning and evening, carrying signs, shouting slogans, chanting “From the river to the sea…,” screaming “Genocide,” “Baby Killers,” and other slogans. We were reminded every day to ignore them, not to engage with them, and to turn our badges around so they couldn’t see our names, as some of them were photographing each of us. I had seen many anti-Israel protests on TV in recent weeks, but being in the middle of one was another thing completely! At one point, they started banging their signs loudly against the fence, and against the floor-to-ceiling windows of the hotel and the Convention Center, eventually breaking a window. One day, we were even warned not to leave the Convention Center. Fortunately, the Denver police and private security were well-prepared and were out in force, many in riot gear and carrying machine guns. We felt that they were on our side, and we thanked them for their protection. As I walked quickly from the hotel to the Convention Center, trying to avert my eyes from these thugs who hated me and everyone else, I tried not to think about what would happen if they managed to pull the fence down. Very unnerving! For a news story about the conference, click here.

Since October 7, it has become obvious that Israel, and all Jews, are in a battle of good vs. evil. There can be no equivocation. In Denver, it was plain to see. Inside the hotel and convention center were those who mourned, comforted, and resolved to rebuild the shattered lives and burned homes of our brothers and sisters in Israel. We stood strong for those who were killed, raped, and kidnapped. Yet outside lurked evil itself. Those who would stand with the murderers, rapists, and kidnappers. Those who would reinvent history and distort the truth to fit their sick, twisted narrative. We at the JNF-USA Global Conference took pride in being on the right side, representing moral clarity and truth.