Katsav wants aliyah at top of agenda

"Israeli leaders gave a hechsher [kashrut certification] to living in the diaspora, because they used diaspora Jews," Katsav said, referring to the outside funding once relied upon to build up the state.

"On the other hand," he added, "we have legitimized living in the diaspora and have said it does not bother us."

Katsav called on world Jewish leaders to place aliyah at the top of their agenda, saying, "The arguments among world Jewish leaders have not stopped the assimilation that threatens the continuation of the Jewish people."

"The only branch that can ensure the continuation of the Jewish nation is the Jewish state," Katsav said. He dismissed all other possible solutions to assimilation, including Jewish education, which he said was a stopgap measure that "could at best last two or three generations."

Several people in the crowd, including overseas officials and philanthropists, said they were surprised or offended by Katsav's remarks.

Immigration Absorption Minister Yael Tamir told reporters that night that the president was insulting.

"I protest the paternalistic attitude conveyed in the words of the president, which give an impression that the state of Israel sets the agenda for diaspora Jews," Tamir said, adding, "Diaspora Jews are aware that the gates of the country are always open for them and they will decide for themselves whether to make aliyah and when."