(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Sharon met today (Wednesday), 11 August 2004, with members of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee and made the following remarks:

“As you know, I attribute supreme importance to immigration to Israel, to immigration absorption and to our ties with Diaspora Jewish communities.  It is in this context that I am meeting today with the members of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee.

I have defined the issue of immigration to Israel as one of the government’s main goals ahead of the 2005 budget.  We will greatly increase the Immigration Absorption Ministry budget for encouraging immigration to Israel, so as to increase support for immigrant students, Hebrew language studies for the children of immigrants and, of course, the community absorption project, an example of which we saw when the first groups of French immigrants arrived approximately two weeks ago.

We give special attention to the issue of employment, including finding solutions to immigrants’ unique needs vis-a-vis professional training and finding work.

We have decided to give special support to new immigrants in the area of housing.  All new immigrants arriving in the country who rent flats in areas of national preference will receive a 50% bonus in the rent assistance that we give to them.

In keeping with our priorities, in the coming budget, the pension for those elderly who receive income assistance will be increased by approximately NIS 230 for a couple until the end of 2005.  A large part of this decision will be directed to elderly immigrants.

We also made a strategic decision to strengthen the ties between the younger generation in the Diaspora and the State of Israel.  In this context, I insisted that we significantly increase our support for Project Birthright, which is one of our most important Jewish-Zionist projects.

At the same time, we have also started a new project, entitled ‘Journey’, which will bring young people to live in Israel for a year.  Such a project will dramatically influence young Jews’ solidarity with Israel, as well as Israel’s information campaign and immigration to Israel.

I am certain that all of these steps which we are taking, as well as additional steps, will lead to increased immigration to Israel and the strengthening of the Jewish people’s ties with Israel.

I would like to say a few words about another, painful, subject. Approximately two weeks ago, a harsh incident in Ashkelon led to several immigrants being hospitalized. I view this incident and its repercussions with utmost severity.  Earlier today, I spoke with MK Marina Solodkin, who brought me terrible pictures. Since I know that this affair has aroused concern and outrage among many immigrants, I want to reassure everyone and promise them that I spoke with Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi today in order to ensure that the investigation of the issue is carried out in full and that such incidents do not recur.

I absolutely cannot allow any group within the Israeli public to gain the impression that the law enforcement authorities are intentionally hostile towards them.  In my conversation with Minister Hanegbi, he assured me that he will deal with the issue quickly and thoroughly, and will speak with the police commanders as soon as possible in order to make certain that such phenomena do not recur.

I know that this is a difficult matter but I view it as very serious.  I hope that the actions that will be taken will lead to changes, and it is important that the community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union does not feel that there is intentional or hostile activity here against such a large and important public as themselves.”