The Israeli government on Friday announced that it would cancel immediately a group of television commercials introduced and paid for by the Ministry of Immigration, after the Embassy in Washington received a number of angry comments from American Jews.
Speaking on CNN, Israel’s American-born Ambassador to Washington, noted:
The Ministry of Immigration has been charged, in its mandate, to bring Israelis home, and has various funds to do so. And in this case, the campaign did not take into account sufficiently American Jewish sensitivities. We regret that. But still, we are committed to trying to bring Israelis back home and reuniting families. Again, I know what it feels like: I have children living in Israel, I’m serving here, I have family living in the United States, my parents and my sisters … so I know the value of the Jewish people together understanding one another and committing to one another as a people.
Oren explained that neither the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, nor his office were involved in the campaign or informed of the campaign. He justified Netanyahu’s lack of attention to the ads by stating that the Israeli leader is busy worrying about other things, including Iranian nuclear weapons and threats on the border.
There are many things on his plate everyday,” Oren said, “and he cannot be expected to be aware of every campaign going on.
The controversial videos are narrated in Hebrew and in the past few days received a lot of attention in the American press. One of the ads shows an American boyfriend “understanding” why his Israeli girlfriend wanted to stay in, as he sees her hunkered-down in front of the computer setting the mood with soft music and a candle. His comment to her is ignored, as the camera zooms in on her looking at a website commemorating Israel’s Memorial Day. The narrator says in Hebrew: “They will always be Israelis but their partners won’t understand. Help them return to Israel.”
In another ad, Israeli grandparents are Skyping with their granddaughter (who is seated between her parents, who it is assumed are Israeli expats). , The grandparents speak in Hebrew, with a nine-branched Hanukkah menorah in the background. They ask the granddaughter, “What holiday is today?” She responds, “Christmas!” The parents then looked dismayed, suggesting that this is clearly their fault for leaving Israel and exposing their child to “goyishe” identity.
The grandparents, too, are shown as being shocked, as the narrator says in Hebrew, “They will always remain Israelis but their children won’t. Help them return to Israel.”
This ad has been removed from the Ministry of Immigration’s youtube page. It was up there on Thursday, so its removal appears to be a direct response to the government’s announcement.
The adverts sparked outage from prominent American Jews. Jewish New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind told WABC News that the ads were insulting:
They want to attract people coming back to Israel, that’s fabulous, but don’t insult American Jews, don’t insult our community.
Even to this day, the Hebrew language is skewed towards the elevated status of living in Israel. Immigration TO Israel is referred to as “aliyah,” or “ascent.” Emigration FROM Israel, alternatively, is referred to as “yeridah,” or “descent.” Israel is referenced as “Ha’aretz,” which literally means “the land,” and “abroad” is translated as “khool,” an conjunction for “khootz la’aretz,” or “outside of the land.”
Technically, the marketing strategy of recruitment is nothing new, though the audience that is targeted could be considered different. A video advert from 2009 from the government-sponsored Masa Agency encouraged Israelis living abroad to report to the agency diaspora Jews who are a “disappearing,” with a direct illusion to interfaith marriage statistics. The agency offers to essentially cure them by bringing them on a Birthright-style trip to Israel.
It is likely that this approach caused less offense because it targeted Israeli and “active” Jewish (i.e. those involved with the diaspora Jews communities) and essentially called on them to save the “inactive” Jews from assimilation. Obviously, inactivate Jews don’t collectively organize and have not established an effective lobby.
Still, what Friday’s move shows is that when prompted by an act of Israel with which it disagrees, the “active” American Jewish community can and will exert pressure via a number of channels to get Israel to reverse course. That, some will argue, is encouraging news.
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As always, +972 encourages responses and comments from its readers. In this particular incident, because the ads are in Hebrew and targeting Israelis living abroad, please do identify yourself as such if you fit into that category … as we would like to create a separate post in a few days highlighting some of those particular responses under the caption of “Israeli expats respond to marriage campaign”