Israel denies encouraging Jews to leave Germany

BERLIN Wed Dec 12, 2007 10:26pm IST

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Israel is not trying to encourage Jews who left the Soviet Union for Germany to migrate to Israel, its ambassador to Berlin said on Wednesday.

German media had reported Nativ, an Israeli agency, was encouraging Jews in Germany to relocate but Yoram Ben-Zeev told a news conference it was aiming only to give them a sense of Israeli culture.

"Nativ is not there to get immigrants from the former Soviet Union," Been-Zeev told journalists after being confirmed as the new ambassador to Germany by President Horst Koehler.

"The main purpose of Nativ is to bring to those communities a sense of the Jewish culture, the Israeli culture and to help with education. The agenda is not to become movers of the communities to Israel."

However, Been-Zeev said Israel was the natural home for Jews and anyone wanting to move to Israel was "more than welcome".

Reports that Nativ emissaries would recruit settlers for Israel struck a nerve in Germany. It is proud it has the world's fastest growing Jewish community with 220,000 Jews arriving from the former Soviet Union since 1990.

Germany had a Jewish population of 670,000 before it was decimated by the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. There was a vestigial Jewish community of 29,000 in 1990 before the Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union began arriving.

Leaders of the Jewish community in Germany had expressed alarm over the reports that Nativ, formed in the 1950s as an intelligence agency to build contacts with Jewish activists in the Soviet Union, planned to persuade Jews to leave Germany.

"It should not be for me to comment on how communities are moving from one place to another," Ben-Zeev said.

"Certainly, Israel is the Jewish state, and it is the natural home. Those who want to come are more than welcome. This will always be their home."

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