A $300,000 Israeli government campaign designed to entice Israelis living in the United States to return to Israel is being labeled “heavy handed” and “an outrage.”
“Instead of talking to us about what is positive about Israel and what is waiting for us should we come back, they are using fear tactics,” complained Yehudit Feinstein, 36, who has been living here 10 years.
The campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption used three television commercials and billboards to lure Israelis back. A spokesman for the ministry, Elad Sonn, said the campaign ran during the month of September and that the commercials are no longer on the air.
"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."
But the commercials remain on the ministry’s Website as of Monday morning, despite claims that they would be removed. And in a story on the campaign, the Jewish Channel said the billboards were seen in New York, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Boston. They read: “Before abba turns into daddy, it’s time to come back to Israel.”
The commercials also don’t pull any punches. One shows a couple who have returned from a date. The young woman goes to her computer and finds a story about Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen soldiers. An announcer then says in Hebrew: “They will always remain Israelis, their partners won’t always understand what this means. Help them return to Israel.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, said: “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads.”
Feinstein said that when she saw the ad, she believed the boyfriend was not Jewish, which touches on another taboo – marrying out of the faith.
Sonn said the campaign was created based on input from focus groups of Israelis living in New York and Los Angeles.
“We did very deep market research with Israelis to learn what they missed about Israel, how to market to them and how they want to be approached,” he said. “The direction of the campaign was to touch the sensitivities of Israelis. It was not meant in any way or manner to criticize the Jewish community or who they would marry.”
But Sharon Avnon, 36, of Brooklyn said she found the commercials “an outrage.”
“They were trying to get us to come back out of feeling guilty,” she said. “I always felt that in Israel there was some sort of racism – that they would not accept someone who is different – and this is part of that. They are saying you can only marry someone who is born in Israel, otherwise it is not right.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he found the commercials “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.”