GA Special Report / Olmert: Strong Israel Is Best Deterrent Protecting World Jewry

At GA, prime minister lauds Birthright, Masa participants, but says Jewish world must do more.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, evoking the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms that presaged the Holocaust, said Sunday that a strong Israel is the most effective deterrent protecting Jews worldwide.

Speaking in Jerusalem to the United Jewish Communities General Assembly (GA), an annual conference of thousands of participants from North America, and focusing his remarks on a large contingent of U.S. and Canadian Jewish youth taking part in programs in Israel, Olmert noted the anniversary, declaring: "Today, while anti-Semitism exists and certainly in some countries it still flourishes, no Jew should hide his religious identity. We must stand up and be proud of our heritage, our past, our culture.

"Today, the strong state of Israel is our most effective deterrent to protect the Jewish people worldwide," he said.

Earlier Sunday, some 800 young adults from Israel and North America took part in a one-day conference called Next Gen, in which participants visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and traveled to a variety of locations within Jerusalem to experience Jewish life in the capital.

Olmert drew loud cheers when he directed his remarks to the young adults in he audience, saying that Israel wholeheartedly supports the Taglit birthright and Masa programs. The prime minister urged the Jewish world to do more to support these projects, even in a time of economic distress.

"As I look at the hundreds of young people here with us tonight, my heart is filled with pride," Olmert said. He then asked a new immigrant from Italy, Gabriel Menasse, to stand and wave to the crowd, quipping that the young man had picked a difficult time to come to Israel to pursue a career as a manager in a brokerage firm.

"Not the easiest job in these difficult days," Olmert said. He also introduced a young woman named Sally Cohen, who is volunteering with the Jewish Agency's Masa program in Ramle.

Exhorting the crowd to cheer more enthusiastically, Olmert listed the different organizations represented, which also included Hillel, Kol Dor and Otzma. "I tell you here and now: Israel is your home, Israel is your future," Olmert said.