Size may not matter, but content does

A recently released, sexually suggestive commercial by an Israel advocacy group, featuring two semi-clothed people using metaphors for oral sex to describe their vacation to Israel, was just a bad idea.

Size doesn't matter 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Size doesn't matter 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The first online video for “Size Doesn’t Matter,” an ad campaign recently launched by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, compares Israel to a small penis. The video, aimed at university students in Canada, awkwardly features two semi-clothed people in bed using metaphors for oral sex to describe their vacation plans. Somehow, it’s supposed to encourage people to visit Israel.
I would presume that Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CCIJA), and whatever other advocacy groups are behind the campaign, will gauge its success by the number of views and the degree to which the videos go viral. And go viral they will. Depending on one’s persuasion, the tasteless/edgy, lame/hip, pathetic/funny video will make its way through Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, because, as the producers of the campaign brilliantly figured out, people like watching things about sex.
The CCIJA may see the inevitably high view rates, tweets, and blog posts as successes, but this approach to Israel education is, for the Jewish people, a road to failure. Putting aside the campaign’s creepy Napoleon complex, the questionable strategy of equating what is to many sacred land with a penis, and the cheesy dialogue, expose a deep problem with this campaign and much of the Israel advocacy that takes place on campus.
The university demographic these efforts are so intent on “stimulating” is a complicated and critical one. The university years can be a time of great personal searching, of identity formation, of setting in place the values, commitments and paths that will last the rest of their lives.
On the other hand, a great deal of western culture worships youth and panders to the minimal responsibility, pleasure-seeking, narcissism and self-involvement that is most possible during these years. University students swing from late night discussions about the purpose of life one day to various other late night activities the next. We hope it’s the former that sticks.
IN THEIR noble quest to engage young Jews with what is arguably the Jewish people’s greatest project in the last 2000 years, the State of Israel, CCIJA and many other Israel advocacy organizations have a choice. Engage students at their highest potential, treat them like mature adults and honor the real questions and struggles they face when dealing with Israel, or take the low road to getting clicks on the website and bodies in the room: sex, shlock and slick rhetoric.
A look at the Size Doesn’t Matter website reveals more about which road this campaign has chosen. Graphics flash by, alternating between half-naked supermodels, exotic beach shots and club scenes. In addition to the dream of non-stop partying and eternal vacation, the site has facts about Israel’s accomplishments in the fields of technological innovation, environmentalism, diversity and gay rights. Israel has made important and praiseworthy moves in all these fields, but there’s something disingenuous about promoting Israel’s big diversity when studies have shown 60% of Israeli-Arab children live below the poverty line, or about promoting gay rights in Israel when the massacre at a GLBT center in Tel Aviv last August remains unsolved and a pride march through Jerusalem was met with the most hateful kind of violence and bigotry. There is nothing on the site about the West Bank or Gaza (in fact, a map of Israel shows neither. In the pictures that zoom by, there are no Arabs, no hareidim, no elderly, no poor.)
WHETHER MOST Israel advocacy organizations aren’t able or are too scared to tackle the very real moral, religious and political questions involved in relating to Israel from abroad, I’m not sure. But this method – rhetoric over reality and style over substance – is a disservice to the Jewish people. The product of this kind of un-nuanced and unreal advocacy is stimulation, not engagement. It will produce people who relate to Israel in a superficial way, not grounded in reality, and unprepared to deal with the real complexities that exist here. At the same time, it will turn off serious young people who want to engage with Israel in meaningful ways and want their questions, concerns and ideas to be taken seriously.
University is the time when young people should be studying the big ideas, asking the big questions, learning and growing. It’s the time in many people’s lives when their energy is highest and their passion for making the world better unbounded and untainted. The real Israel, in all it’s beautiful, real, sometimes heartbreaking reality can be a vehicle for young Jews to ask the ultimate questions about life, meaning and purpose and inspire them to action.
Israel’s size may not matter, but it’s future does. We desperately need the next generation’s questions, idealism and energy; not their hormones. Let’s give the next generation the tools and resources they really need to be mature, thoughtful, committed Zionists, Jews, and human beings.
The writer is the cofounder of Uri L'Tzedek and a rabbinical student at YeshivatChovevei Torah.