Two years after former prime minister Ariel Sharon caused a storm in France by calling upon French Jews to make aliya to escape anti-Semitism, his successor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sent the same message in a more subtle manner as he wrapped up his five-day trip to Europe on Thursday.
Sharon's aliya call instigated a diplomatic dispute with the French government and left him persona non grata in France for a year. Olmert made a point of tempering the aliya message that all Israeli prime ministers have made on virtually every trip to the Diaspora by noting that anti-Semitic incidents have fallen by 50 percent in the past year and by praising the French government's efforts on the issue.
Olmert especially aimed the aliya message at the children of some 300 Jewish leaders who came to hear him speak in Paris. He called on them to send their children on the Taglit-birthright israel and Masa programs and to allow them to move to Israel.
"We love you and it's good to know you are around and even more so when you visit us and even more so when you come to live with us," Olmert said. "You have wonderful children. They should come to live at home. You have a wonderful country but they have a home and they should live at home."
Olmert, whose son Shaul is a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, said French Jews should send their children to universities in Israel. "France has good universities, but so does Israel," he said.
The crowd warmly accepted Olmert's message. The audience was less receptive, however, when Olmert praised French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, whose popularity ratings are at a nadir.
In a speech at the French parliament alongside Olmert late Wednesday night, de Villepin said that under his leadership "France will pursue the struggle against anti-Semitism in France proper, Europe and the entire world."
Olmert met Thursday with French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has taken over the leadership of Chirac's rightist UMP party and is expected to become president next year. Sarkozy has become France's most popular politician, especially among Jews, because of his success in quelling the rioting of French Muslims last year.
In his meeting with Chirac, Olmert joked that he wanted French Jews to move to Israel but understood why they were staying in France. In his message to French Jews, Olmert promised that an ambassador would soon be appointed to replace Nissim Zvili, who left nearly a year ago.
Olmert also repeated his messages about fighting terror and implementing realignment that he delivered in all his meetings in London and Paris.
Regarding realignment, Olmert said: "Every centimeter from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is Jewish land and is an inseparable part of our history, our prayers, our longing and our dreams. Throughout history, the land has never belonged to another nation other than the Jews."
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