Cites "weakening affinity" of Diaspora youth, falling Jewish birthrates as threats equal to Iran, terror.
By ALLISON HOFFMAN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
The United States must take the lead in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the opening of the General Assembly of the umbrella body of North American Jewish Communities in Jerusalem Sunday night.
Iran has not given up its "devious goals," Olmert said - listing its quest for nuclear weapons, its pursuit of regional hegemony and its support for terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.
"We must unite our forces, led by the international community, led by the United States of America," he said, calling for bilateral and international sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
"Each and every one of us needs to play a role - lobby your government, lead your organization or identify a project that can exert additional pressure on Iran," he said. "It must become more costly to Iran to pursue nuclear weapons than to give [them] up."
"Iran cannot become nuclear. Israel cannot afford it. The Jewish people cannot afford it. Countries in the Middle East cannot afford it. The free world must not accept it," he said. "Our voice must be loud and clear, without hesitation, without weakness. Together, we can meet this challenge."
Olmert said that under his leadership, Israel would maintain its commitment to "serious and meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians and with Syria, which started, and which continue, and which I believe are essential for the future well-being and security of the State of Israel."
"As long as I am prime minister, I will spare no effort to make the necessary progress to advance the peace process," he said. "Peace with our neighbors should be the inheritance we provide to our future generations. It is within reach."
Olmert spoke at the annual assembly of the UJC umbrella organization of North American Jewish communities, noting that he had hosted the last General Assembly in Jerusalem as the mayor of the city, which he described as "this great and eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people."
Event officials estimated that 4,000 people would participate in this week's activities. The main auditorium at Jerusalem's convention center was full, though overflow rooms equipped with video feeds of Olmert's speech stood empty during his talk.
"Although this is most likely my last appearance before this distinguished crowd as the prime minister of the State of Israel, this is by no means good-bye," Olmert said, telling the crowd he planned to maintain a role in public discussion over the future of the Jewish people.
He described the "weakening affinity" of Diaspora youth, the "distancing of the future generations from the most basic principles of the Jewish faith," and falling Jewish birth rates as existential threats on par with the nuclear threat from Iran, terrorism and the financial crisis.
"Today, 60 years after the proclamation of the State of Israel, we can say the Jewish people across the world have become the project of the State of Israel," Olmert said, appealing to the assembled Americans and Canadians to come live in Israel by emphasizing the possibility of romance.
"Live here for a while, I mean, live here forever, sure, but at least live here for a while, perhaps you will meet your life partner," Olmert said, grinning at a crowd of Taglit-Birthright participants who waved Israeli flags.
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