Landver apologizes, with caveats, for Aliya ads

Immigrant Absorption Minister says ads succeeded achieved its goal of bringing home 15,000 returning Israelis.

Ad campaign 311 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Ad campaign 311
(photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
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 return.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the campaign canceled after it received harsh criticism from US Jewish leaders and commentators.RELATED:Reporter's Notebook: Aliya ads offend US JewsPM cancels government campaign to entice expats home
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 do.”
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.
“I’m not 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 years.
“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 decision.”
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 September.
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 seeing them.
“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 come back.”
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.
“If 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.”