Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel on Sunday that it is time to put aside the issue of aliyah for Diasporah Jews, and concentrate on Jewish education and self-identity.

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Aliyah, the Hebrew term for moving to Israel, has until this point been the raison d'etre for the quasi-government agency. But Olmert pointed out that a majority of the world's Jews now live in the Jewish State, for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple.

We must understand it is possible that the period of massive immigration to Israel is nearing an end.

"We must understand that it is possible that the period of massive immigration to Israel is nearing an end," he said. Olmert said the new goal should instead be to focus on stemming the tide of assimilation abroad, rather than working to bring more Jews to Israel.

It was not clear whether competition with two nongovernmental agencies over funding had anything to do with the prime minister's remarks. Last year the cabinet formally decided to also fund two agencies, Nefesh B'Nefesh, the North American aliyah organization, and Ami, the French aliyah organization. Nefesh B'Nefesh had received trial funding for the past two years in a successful pilot program that brought thousands of new immigrants to the country.

The two groups together brought some 5,000 new immigrants to Israel in 2007. Nefesh B'Nefesh, which alone has brought some 14,000 new immigrants to Israel since it began operations in 2002, has said it has a waiting list of 20,000, and expects to reach a goal of bringing 100,000 new immigrants in the coming years.

"Our main goal [now] is to strengthen Jewish education in Jewish communities, including the study of Hebrew, increase awareness regarding Jewish culture and heritage, instill Jewish values and deepen the links between world Jewish communities and the State of Israel." 

Olmert called on the government and the Jewish Agency to invest together in joint projects such as Birthright/Taglit, which brings young adult Diaspora Jews to Israel for ten-day consciousness-raising trips, as well as others.

The Prime Minister also said it was time for Israel to rethink its relationship with Diaspora Jewry – perhaps it was time for Israel to learn to stand on its own two feet.

"We must stop talking in terms of big brother and little brother, and instead speak in terms of two brothers marching hand-in-hand and supporting each other," he said.