Ad enough: campaign to bring Jews home cancelled by Israel

By Nathalie Rothschild, December 8, 2011

Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the cancellation of an advertising campaign aimed at encouraging Israeli expatriates in the United States to return home.

Sponsored by Israel's Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the campaign warned Israelis that they may become assimilated and lose touch with their Jewish roots.

But there was an angry backlash from American Jews, with several commentators and groups taking offence at the suggestion that it is not possible to maintain a strong Jewish identity in the United States.

The Jewish Federations of North America sent a letter of complaint to Mr Netanyahu after calling the campaign "outrageous and insulting" and warning that it could "harm the Israel-diaspora relationship".

The campaign featured a series of billboards and TV commercials targeted at areas that have large numbers of Israeli residents, including New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

A series of videos was also posted on YouTube. One shows a pair of Israeli grandparents talking to their granddaughter in the US on Skype. A menorah is lit behind them. The grandmother asks the girl what holiday she thinks they are celebrating and, to the adults' dismay, the girl answers "Christmas!"

In a second video, a young man believes his Israeli girlfriend, "Dafna", is planning a romantic, candle-lit night in, when, in fact, she is commemorating Israel's memorial day. A Hebrew voiceover says: "They will always be Israelis but their partners won't always understand what that means. Help them return to Israel." A third video shows a child trying to get his father's attention. He calls him "daddy" three times, but the father only wakes up when his son whispers "abba" - Hebrew for "dad". The voiceover says: "They will always remain Israeli, but their children won't."

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in US online magazine the Atlantic that the idea "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".

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman called the videos "heavy-handed, and even demeaning".

The Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, issued a statement in response to the criticisms, saying: "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 Israeli Consulate in New York estimates that there are 600,000 Israelis living in the US. Last year, Israel announced a series of benefits for returning Israelis, including tax breaks, health insurance and free tuition for higher education.

Last updated: 12:42pm, December 8 2011