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Jill Biden tours joint U.S.-NIF project

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jill Biden, wife of the U.S. vice president, toured and praised a New Israel Fund-backed program that the philanthropy says would be endangered by a proposed Israeli law.

Biden is accompanying her husband to Israel, where he delivered a speech Thursday extolling close U.S.-Israel ties and pressing for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Jill Biden toured Sidre, a Negev town, to examine the Bedouin Women’s Empowerment Project, which encourages independence for women through microenterprise. Biden visited a rug-making workplace.

"I am a working woman, too, and I know how important it is to be independent," said Biden, a community college professor who has continued to work while her husband serves in office.

The project is funded jointly by the New Israel Fund and the Middle East Partnership Institute of the U.S. State Department. A bill under consideration in the Knesset would attach reporting conditions to projects funded by foreign government that NIF and other groups say are excessively onerous and would effectively kill such programs.

Behind the bill is criticism of groups — some also funded by NIF — that have reported on alleged Israeli human rights abuses.

"This joint effort between NIF and the U.S. Government significantly supports unmet needs in Israel," Daniel Sokatch, who directs NIF, said in a statement. "It is this very funding that is potentially jeopardized by those who object to a robust and independent NGO sector. We especially appreciate Dr. Biden’s visit at a time when the values of these programs must be publicly demonstrated."

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