JERUSALEM, Israel -- "Welcome to Israel. Welcome home," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told 350 Americans and Canadians upon their arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport Tuesday morning.
Nefesh b'Nefesh (soul to soul), an organization that has helped 33,000 North American and British Jews make aliyah (immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return) in the past decade, organized the welcome home ceremony. The Law of Return allows any person with at least one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen of the Jewish state.
Israel's newest citizens, among them five sets of twins and two sets of triplets, came despite the growing threat from a nuclear Iran and the Islamic takeover in Egypt, Israel's first peace partner, and a civil war in Syria on Israel's northern border.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency, and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver were among the Israeli officials on hand to greet the new immigrants, including 127 young people who will soon be serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
Speaking first in Hebrew and then English, Netanyahu told the new recruits that serving in the Israel Defense Forces is "a great privilege."
"Each of the 350 people who have made aliyah today have decided to link their personal future with the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. But you've decided to do something else. You've decided to defend the Jewish future.
"And to have the opportunity to do so is a great privilege. It wasn't accorded to previous generations of Jews. In previous times, for almost two millennia, the Jews could not defend themselves. This is the great transformation that occurred in our time -- that we can regain our destiny and defend our future -- and this is a privilege that you have now decided to practice personally, thereby altering your lives and the Jewish future as well," the prime minister said.
Anti-Semitic assaults have not disappeared, Netanyahu said. "On the contrary, there is a rise of a new anti-Semitism."
"As the Jewish state progresses and rises, so does anti-Semitism, but it changes form and we see today a virulent attack on the Jewish people -- a virulent new form of anti-Semitism.
"And we need to defend ourselves against that and those who give it intellectual support. This is a job that we all have to do, but the most important job is to defend the Jewish state. This we are doing -- this you are doing. And I'm proud of you. I think the whole people are proud of you. The friends of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike are proud of you," he said.
"Welcome to Israel. Welcome home!"