Assimilation ad angers diaspora

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 10, 2009
Poster: as seen on the TV advert

Poster: as seen on the TV advert

A new campaign against assimilation in the diaspora, which is aimed at Israelis, is raising eyebrows in international Jewish organisations.

The television advert shows spoof “missing” posters, featuring young men and women with Jewish names. The implication is that the diaspora youngsters are being “lost” to Judaism.

The advert urges Israelis with a relative abroad who might be interested in Israel to contact MASA, an Israeli-based group that encourages Jewish students to study in Israel.

However, US journalists and bloggers have complained that the advert portrays them as a dying community, that it is reminiscent of the Holocaust, and that it was insulting to offspring of mixed marriages to imply that their parents were “lost”. They added that the advert is a symptom of Israeli ignorance about the diaspora.

Following the criticism, MASA changed the campaign, running an advert without the “missing” posters. Its PR advisors insisted that they had always planned to run the advert in two different versions.

MASA — Israel Journey was set up five years ago by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency as a way of encouraging aliyah. Its annual budget is about $42 million, but has apparently failed to deliver on its promise to bring 20,000 young Jews to Israel every year.

“They peaked at about 8,000 last year and this year the numbers will probably be down,” said one official at the Agency. “Besides, most of the students receiving stipends from MASA would have come to study here anyway. Almost half are religious yeshivah students. It is hard to understand how they are exactly fighting assimilation and that wasn’t the reason they were set up anyway.”

“This campaign costs NIS 3.5 million,” says another senior Agency official. “And it is directed at the Israeli public instead of at young Jews in diaspora. No one can see the point at a time when the Jewish Agency and other Jewish organisations are making drastic cutbacks.”

MASA’s Motti Sharf defended the campaign: “While assimilation is an existential threat, Israelis are apathetic as the process is slow, non-dramatic and far away. It is time to put the issue on the table.”

Last updated: 5:13pm, September 10 2009