Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Israel Beiteinu) “apologized” on
Wednesday to American Jews who were offended by her ministry’s advertising campaign
aimed at persuading Israelis living in the United States to
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the campaign canceled
after it received harsh criticism from US Jewish leaders and
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After he received complaints, Knesset Immigration
Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud)
invited Landver to explain the campaign and MKs, advertising executives and
representatives of American Jewry to respond.
“We didn’t intend to harm
anyone and if anyone was offended, I am sorry,” Landver said. “I don’t have to
say I’m sorry, but I’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to
Landver added more caveats to her apology. She said that the
campaign only ended because it ran out of money, that Netanyahu’s order only
resulted in a YouTube video being removed from her ministry’s website, and that
she still didn’t understand why American Jews were offended.
really apologizing,” she said. “If anyone was offended, they should look in the
mirror and see their kids when they come back from public schools,” she added,
in a reference to assimilation in the Diaspora.
Landver blamed the
controversy over the ad campaign on “one hostile article attacking our prime
minister” by Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. She said the campaign was
approved by the cabinet in May and achieved its goal of bringing home 15,000
returning Israelis, adding to 43,000 who have returned in the past four
“After many years when the government of Israel didn’t address
Israelis abroad, my ministry focused on helping Israelis return to their
country,” Landver said. “The campaign ended a month and a half ago in a big
success for the State of Israel and the Absorption Ministry that implemented the
Ministry officials who testified to the committee said the
campaign was devised after six focus group sessions with Israelis in New York
and Los Angeles found that an emotional campaign, rather than a financial-based
one, would work best in appealing to them.
The ministry decided to target
Israelis aged 30 to 50 by advertising on an Israeli cable channel and nine
Hebrew billboards in population centers of Israelis in the US. Officials said
proof of the campaign’s success was that average monthly hits on the ministry’s
website rose from 6,500 before the campaign to 94,000 in
Landver and officials from her ministry said American Jews who
are not Israeli were not targeted or taken into account. Rebecca Caspi, the
Jewish Federations of North America senior vice president for Israel and
overseas, and her predecessor in the post, Kadima MK Nachman Shai, criticized
Landver for thinking that Israelis could be targeted by the ads without US Jews
“We don’t think anyone intended to harm American Jews, but
it hurt them to the depths of their souls,” Caspi said.
“It presented a
message that a Jewish life can only be lived in the State of Israel. It is
unacceptable that US Jews are expected to hit the streets when they are needed
to protest on Israel’s behalf, while Israel delegitimizes their Jewish lives in
their home country.”
The most controversial ad featured a young Israeli
woman trying to commemorate Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars but
failing to adequately explain its significance to her partner, who many critics
assumed to be an American Jew.
The ad’s tagline reads: “They will always
remember Israel, but their partners might not always understand. Help them to
Shai said the campaign was unsuccessful because it ignored
the US Jewish community, was insensitive to them, and demonstrated a lack of
understanding of their lives.
He said it should have been coordinated
with the Foreign Ministry, the Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry
and American Jewish groups.
Four lawmakers who are emigrants from the
former Soviet Union and one haredi MK praised the campaign and expressed hope
that it would be extended in the US and expanded around the world.
the ads angered someone, they should think about why they were offended,” Shas
MK Avraham Michaeli said.
“If we are afraid of getting our hands dirty
and offending people by bringing up the problem of assimilation, we’ll be left
with no one left to bring to Israel.”
Danny Seaman, deputy
director-general of the Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry,
summarized the feelings of different groups on the ads when he told the
committee that as a child of Israelis raised in the US, he understood the ads,
but they made his brother in the US feel uncomfortable, and his brother’s
American wife was offended.
Lonestar Communications CEO Charley Levine,
who made aliya from the US in 1978, defended the ads from a professional
perspective in his testimony to the committee.
“I don’t know why people
are apologizing,” Levine said. “Any time any Israeli raises the issue of aliya,
there will be problems of sensitivity. As a professional, the content here is
terrific. If Israel wants to be a Zionist leader, it has to choose between being
popular and correct. I prefer that we be correct. These ads are the
responsibility of Israel.”