Women in Israel have the right to sit anywhere they want, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a crowd of 3,000 people at a Taglit-Birthright mega-event in the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Wednesday.

“This is a country where Arabs have rights, the president of the Supreme Court is a woman and where a woman can sit anywhere she wants,” he said. “It’s a free country.”

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The prime minister responded to the ongoing controversy that erupted last month about bus lines catering to the ultra-Orthodox where women sit in the back of the bus.

During his speech, Netanyahu broke with official Taglit-Birthright policy and urged participants from over a dozen countries to immigrate to Israel.

“I want you to come here to make aliya,” he said.

“Whether you do that or stay there, be proud of your birthright.”

As for the mega-event itself, it featured the same loud music, pyrotechnics and troupes of drummers and dancers that are the norm at such events.

Philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman, who donate generously to the program, addressed the participants and spoke about their first visit to Israel.

“I remember walking the streets of Jerusalem belonging to something bigger,” Schusterman said. “Even though I was far from my home in Oklahoma, I felt at home.”

For Celeste Menajovsky of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Birthright trip to Israel was her first time in the country.

The 26-year-old journalist said Israel looked the way she imagined it would, but that the trip had affected her in a way that took her by surprise.

“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “I realized what a small country it was and was impressed by the Jewish history.

Perhaps my best moment was visiting the Hebrew University and seeing the vistas.”

She said she has no plans to make aliya but she would like to study for a semester at university here or volunteer on a kibbutz.

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