The Israeli government recently launched and suddenly pulled an ad campaign that was meant to urge Israelis living in the US to consider returning back to Israel. The campaign essentially cautioned Israeli expats against marrying American Jews and raising their children in the US. As noted in a post by The Jewish Channel here a few days ago, the campaign took the form of strategically placed billboards and ads on Jewish cable TV Channels. The shit storm wasn’t slow in coming. Jeffrey Goldberg over at the Atlantic got it stated when he stated:

I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads… These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America… 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.

Similar statements of disappointment and thinly veiled outrage were heard from the usual suspects, The Jewish Federations of North America who, in a memo addressed to the JFNA Board of Trustees and Federation Presidents and Executive Directors , stated:

While we recognize the motivations behind the ad campaign, we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel. We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship… For that reason, we have made our concerns known to Israeli officials in the United States, and are delivering a strong letter to the Prime Minister’s office asking the government to stop this initiative and to reconsider the strategy behind it.

Abe Foxman over at the ADL chimed in:

We find these videos heavy-handed, and even demeaning … While we appreciate the rationale behind the Israeli government’s appeal to its citizens living in the U.S. to return to Israel, we are concerned that some may be offended by what the video implies about American Jewry.

Well, ’nuff said. The Israelis pulled the ads and cancelled the campaign and that’s all she wrote:

The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused. 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.

Except here’s the thing. The messages in the ads are, well, totally true. Israelis should know that the benefits that accrue with a move to the US come at a price. Secular Israelis may not care about the 50%+ intermarriage rate of Jews in the US. Jewish day schools that cost $15,000 a year and then some? Not such a big deal if you’re making big bucks at some giant tech firm in Palo Alto. But how about the children? How will living in the US affect the precious kinderlach? Well, all one needs to do is compare and contrast. Compare your average 20-21 year old Israeli soldier on a Birthright Israel trip with his or her American equivalents – it’s the difference between an adult and a child. Compare American Jewish students studying at an overseas University program with their Israeli equivalents. The Americans like to party while the Israelis tend to study hard on a daily basis.

Of course life in Israel isn’t perfect. To say the least. But a couple of generations from now, millions of our children and grand children will not even identify themselves as Jews. Those pie eyed Israelis, seduced by the promise of a better life, will look back on the day they decided to leave Israel, with its vibrant Jewish life, both secular and religious, and rue the day they decided to start new lives in the United States. I say this as an American Jew, living in New York, undoubtedly one of the most Jewish cities in the world. I am a keen observer of my friends and colleagues and I can read the writing on the wall. I hope my pessimistic assessment proves to be wrong, and if it does, it will be in no small measure thanks to the existence of a strong, stable and vibrant Israel and its relationship and ties to the Jewish diaspora. But if we keep taking Israel’s best and brightest, that equation doesn’t work. We ought to at least be honest with them and let them know that if they join us, they will inevitably become just like us.

About the author

wendy in furs

I live and blog anonymously from New York. If my boss knew this was me, I'd be fired in a nano-second. Ha ha! Screw you boss man!

13 Comments

  • I guess there are many sides to this story… I can agree with the argument against weakening the fabric of Israel while disagreeing to warning against the possible assimilation of Israelis into the fabric of the United States. I guess I don’t like the message of throwing our support in the USA of the State of Israel into our faces.

  • Many secular Israelis who come to the USA do assimilate, often within one generation. Heck, I know a young woman who was a shomeret shabbat her entire life and within two years of coming to the USA has completely given up on keeping shabbat and may have already had her first ever cheeseburger. That woman, in Israel, in proximity to the rest of her family, would probably have remained observant.

    Actually, probably the Israelis in NY City and LA are the ones who are least likely to disappear from Jewish life because they live in cities with substantial Jewish populations.

    But the fault lies with the Jewish leadership in North America. They have squandered billions of dollars over the last 30-40 years. Jewish education has become the province of the wealthiest and the poorest Jews. But the big middle and upper middle class are almost certainly unable to participate without paying a severe personal price which almost all are unwilling to pay. Don’t worry, though, Birthright is there to put on that nice little band-aid.

  • How an you be insulted by the TRUTH?
    Every Jewish child in an American public school knows all about the easter bunny, “hollow-ween”, and xmas. How many have even heard about Purim, chanukkah, kol nidrei, tu bshvat, tu b’av?
    There’s no such thing as a secular education in America, so eiher your kids learn about Judaism, or G-d forbid they don’. Bu they WILL learn everyhing about xmas and oher non-Jewish holidays.
    SO again, WHY are you insulted by the truth???

  • I think the ads are just over the top. I wasn’t personally offended but the idea seems to be that American Jews don’t know anything about being Jewish. That’s a bit ridiculous.

  • Doesn’t everybody have a story about a young woman who was shomeret shabbat her entire life until coming to America? It gets to be so tiring.
    Truth be told – on my most recent visit to Israel this past July I had to look far and wide for kosher restaurant options.

  • Interesting post on the Ad campaign urging Israeli Jews to rethink marriage to “American Jews”.. I really liked how you gave reactions from a number of news sources to give your readers the full picture! Great post! I also think you’re commentary is interesting.. coming from a blogger who identifies herself as a Jew, I think it’s interesting that you weren’t offended by the ads.. I know a lot of people in my office were. Anyway, I thought you might like this video about the Ads (link: http://www.newsy.com/videos/israel-pulls-ads-calling-on-jews-to-flee-america/), which goes more into different peoples’ perspectives.. thought you might like to embed it, or link to it, in your blog!

    Keep up the great blog,
    Georgia

  • Brilliant campaign.

    Two types of israelis overseas, the educated and the un-educated. I’ve lived with DISHs overseas. Not a pretty sight. The campaign seems aimed at the educated but might actually work better on the un.

  • I understand the message they were trying to get across, and that is to not let yourself just blend into the american culture, because american culture is based around christianity. Being and living in Israel is one of the best things a person can do to help israel, and to help themselves remain jewish or israeli. However, America has a lot of opportunities that Israel cannot provide its people (jobs, locations, activities, sports, etc.). Not to mention how difficult just living in israel is, paying for food is not easy when you know that the price of everything in america is significantly less.

    However, there are still many ways to support israel, for those crazy people who choose to live in israel instead of somewhere else. You can donate to jewish charities and organizations, or take a trip to israel and put money into their economy. My company, LionOps is a new adventure tourism company that you can take a week long trip with in israel. You can learn military tactics of the israeli special forces, shoot israeli guns, learn krav maga, and even go sky diving!
    if you are interested, check out our website: http://www.lionops.com
    or our youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/LionopsTour

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