UPDATE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered that the ad campaign be canceled.
Why are some American Jews so exercised about the two-month old video ad campaign by the Israeli government aimed at tugging at the heartstrings of Israeli expats to get them to return home?
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes, "I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads." (He was tipped off to the two-month-old campaign by a report on The Jewish Channel.)
The ad in question shows the young daughter of Israeli expats sitting with her parents while video chatting with her grandparents in Israel, who have a lighted menorah in the background. When the grandparents ask the girl what holiday it is, she says, “Christmas!” The tagline: “They will always be Israeli. Their kids won’t.”
Does this ad necessarily suggest that if an Israeli lives in America his kid won’t know what Chanukah is? I didn’t think so, but I guess it can be viewed that way. I saw it as a reminder to Israeli expats of how, unlike in Israel, Judaism is not the dominant culture in America. (UPDATE: Late Friday morning EST, the Israeli government removed this video from YouTube.)
As for the other ads, I don’t see how they are offensive at all. Goldberg slams the one depicting an American man failing to understand the significance to his Israeli expat girlfriend of Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. But anyone who grew up in Israel or served in the Israeli army and now lives in America knows that even the most engaged, active American Jews fail to grasp the emotional weight of Israel’s Memorial Day. Most don’t mark it at all. As an IDF veteran, Goldberg surely knows that the emotion Israelis feel on this most solemn of Israeli days (yes, it beats Yom Kippur/biking day) cannot simply be explained. It can only be felt. That makes this a particularly effective ad to Israelis.
Chemi Shalev of Haaretz offers a succinct analysis of why these ads have touched a raw nerve in America, and why the reaction to them in Israel is so tone deaf:
As for the commercials themselves, and the surprisingly vehement reaction to them, I am of two minds. On the one hand, the Americans who are objecting, including the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, do “protest too much,” as Gertrude says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, possibly because some of the situations portrayed in the commercials hit too close to home; possibly because the protestors fail to acknowledge or comprehend that Israelis who have immigrated abroad may indeed be prone to faster assimilation than American-born Jews; and just possibly because this is a good opportunity as any to vent some pent up anger at the current Israeli government without being automatically accused of “aiding Hamas and Hezbollah” or some such chauvinistic drivel.
On the other hand, one cannot ignore the insularity and self-centeredness that makes a growing number of Israeli politicians, government officials and opinion makers obtuse or oblivious to the effects of their actions on world public opinion, in general, and American Jews, in particular. Despite being forewarned, for example, so many members of the Knesset either couldn’t comprehend or couldn’t care less that the recent wave of anti-democratic legislation introduced to the Israeli parliament might alienate large swathes of liberal-minded American Jews.
Watch the ads and decide for yourself: