Reporter's Notebook: Aliya ads offend US Jews

Many American Jews greeted news of PM having withdrawn ads with combination of distaste, wariness and snorts of disbelief.

December 4, 2011 10:22
4 minute read.
ad campaign for Israeli expats

Ad campaign 311. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)


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NEW YORK – The ads that were intended to lure Israelis home – but instead, offended American Jews – may have been pulled, but they have left bad feelings in their wake.

Many American Jews greeted the news on Friday of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu having withdrawn the ads with a combination of distaste, wariness and snorts of disbelief.

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PM cancels government campaign to entice expats home

Though they are now off the air, we are left wondering, like someone who just listened to the drunken ravings of someone being a little too candid: Truth in advertising? Was that really what you think of us American Jews? That we will corrupt your children? That we’re your dumb, rich cousins across the pond who can be laughed at behind our backs? That we are inferior to you? The ads, for all the controversy, did precisely what they were intended to do. They were extremely successful at highlighting the point that there is, in fact, an “us” and a “them.” The trouble is that we American Jews were surprised to find ourselves lumped in with the “them” – because over here, we thought we were part of your “us.”

“As an Israeli abroad, these jerks sure don’t make it easy to defend her,” one Facebook commenter wrote. “I honestly have no idea why American Jews still send money. Israelis show no gratitude for this help, and reply by financing campaigns putting down Americans, supporting policies that brush off most Americans’ Jewish identity, and generally thinking of Jews here as fryerim [suckers]. There’s a reason we coined the term chutzpah. We may not be the only ones guilty of it, but we sure wear it like a badge of honor.”

Under the quick typing fingers of American Jews, the Internet seethed.

Oh, so you Israelis think we’re fools who don’t – excuse me, “can’t” – understand Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars)? “My children shouldn’t marry Israelis because their spouses will be so self-absorbed that they’ll light candles for Yom Hazikaron without a word of explanation rather than trying to share the emotional experience. That’s my takehome message from the ad,” another Facebook commenter chimed in.

Apparently, the ads implicitly told us, you also think that we will seduce your sons and daughters into celebrating Christmas.

That point, of course, is particularly ironic, since there are many more ways to be Jewish in the United States than there are in Israel.

“When Israel has developed as numerous + eclectic an amount of ways to practice, observe and teach Judaism as we have in the Diaspora, then let’s talk,” one friend IM’ed me.

When I interviewed the departing consul-general, Asaf Shariv, in his office last year, even he noted that one of the biggest surprises he’d had in coming to America was the connection that he made...with being Jewish.

In his two years in America, Shariv told me, he went to synagogue “more than I ever did in my entire life in Israel. Here, there are millions of people who have never visited Israel, and they’re proud Jews. They’re Jewish because it’s a beautiful thing.

“In Israel, you sometimes take Judaism for granted, and you think that Judaism is just the Orthodox, that to be Jewish is to be haredi from Mea She’arim,” he told me. “That’s a big problem for us as a country. There’s a lot of ignorance inside Israel among the most brilliant young people regarding Judaism.”

There’s a lot of ignorance in Israel, it turns out, about other things as well.

“We should have a campaign about how Americans shouldn’t marry Israelis,” one Facebook commenter typed angrily, because “your kids will grow up thinking that Orthodoxy is the only legitimate way to practice Judaism, that all Arabs are Jewhating terrorists, that you can park on a sidewalk and that firepants and orange Crocs are appropriate fashion.”

Kol Yisrael arevim ze la zeh.

Here in America, we learn that the translation is that all of the people of Israel are responsible for one another.

In Israel, apparently you learned it just as all Israel – as in, people who live or once lived in Israel – are responsible for one another. The idea that you didn’t even see these ads as being insulting only compounds the effrontery.

To the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption: Maybe your next ad campaign should aim to ameliorate the lingering bad smell your ads left behind in the American Jewish community.

Maybe you should take this moment as a chance to reach out and to acknowledge that American Jews have a lot to offer the Jewish state. Maybe you could even invite them to come by and take a look and stay a while, telling them that you know that a strong Israel is one that encompasses all of the people of Israel.

Maybe, of course, you should have done that in the first place.

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