By Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic
The Netanyahu government’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is sponsoring advertisements in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don’t return home.
The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America — one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.” In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day. The Jewish Channel, which broke the story of what it calls a “semi-covert national campaign,” suggests that the Ministry does not differentiate between the “dangers” of marrying American Jews, and American non-Jews, and I have to agree. But let’s lay that aside for a minute and watch the video:
The narrator says, in essence, “they will never understand what it means to be Israeli.” The narration leaves no room for the possibility that “Dafna,” the Israeli girlfriend, could explain to the Josh-character (my name for him, though it could be Jeremy as well) why she’s sad on Memorial Day.
And here’s the in-your-face Christmas ad:
I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads. I understand the impulse behind them: Israel wants as many of its citizens as possible to live in Israel. This is not an abnormal desire. But the way it is expressed, in wholly negative terms, is somewhat appalling. How about, “Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.’s”? Or, “It’s always sunny in Israel”? Or, “Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you”?
These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the “Christmas” ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren’t in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I’m not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that’s for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)
The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror
NEW YORK – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is canceling an ad campaign aimed at luring Israeli expatriates home that some American Jews have found offensive.
The ads, produced by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, attempt to convey the message that the children and families of Israeli expats will not have Israeli identities if they stay in the Diaspora. This week, the Jewish Federations of North America called the ads “insulting,” and the head of the Anti-Defamation League said they were “demeaning.”
“The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused,” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. “The campaign, which aimed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return home, was a laudable one, and it was not meant to cause insult. The campaign was conducted without the knowledge or approval of the Prime Minister’s Office or of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu, once made aware of the campaign, ordered the videos immediately removed from YouTube, and he ordered that the billboards be removed as well. The prime minister deeply values the American Jewish community and is committed to deepening ties between it and the State of Israel.”
Though the ad campaign, consisting of billboards and three videos running on YouTube and on some Israeli sattelite TV channels, is more than two months old, Jewish organizations appear to have been galvanized by a report on The Jewish Channel that was highlighted Wednesday by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a blog posttitled “Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews.” Goldberg called the ads a “demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews.”
The Jewish Federations then said it was sending a letter to Netanyahu protesting the 30-second spots and asking that they be pulled.
In one of the ads American Jews complained about, the young daughter of Israeli expats sits with her parents while video chatting with her grandparents in Israel, who have a lighted menorah in the background. When the grandparents ask the girl what holiday it is, she says, “Christmas!” The tagline: “They will always be Israeli. Their kids won’t.”
In another ad, a dozing Israeli expat father is deaf to his son’s calls of “Daddy!” until the kid finally says “Abba!” The tagline: “Before ‘Abba’ turns into ‘Daddy,’ it’s time to come back to Israel.”
“While we recognize the motivations behind the ad campaign, we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel,” Jewish Federations leaders wrote to their board of trustees. “We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, told Haaretz the ads were “heavy-handed, and even demeaning.”
According to the Haaretz report, Israeli’s Foreign Ministry consulted with the Absorption Ministry after receiving several complaints from American Jews and was told that the feedback from Israelis who live in the United States was positive.