NEW YORK (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is canceling an ad campaign aimed at luring Israeli expatriates home that some American Jews have found offensive.
The ads, produced by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, attempt to convey the message that the children and families of Israeli expats will not have Israeli identities if they stay in the Diaspora. This week, the Jewish Federations of North America called the ads "insulting," and the head of the Anti-Defamation League said they were "demeaning."
"The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused," Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. "The campaign, which aimed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return home, was a laudable one, and it was not meant to cause insult. The campaign was conducted without the knowledge or approval of the Prime Minister’s Office or of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu, once made aware of the campaign, ordered the videos immediately removed from YouTube, and he ordered that the billboards be removed as well. The prime minister deeply values the American Jewish community and is committed to deepening ties between it and the State of Israel."
Though the ad campaign, consisting of billboards and three videos running on YouTube and on some Israeli sattelite TV channels, is more than two months old, Jewish organizations appear to have been galvanized by a report on The Jewish Channel that was highlighted Wednesday by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a blog post titled "Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews." Goldberg called the ads a “demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews.”
The Jewish Federations then said it was sending a letter to Netanyahu protesting the 30-second spots and asking that they be pulled.
In one of the ads American Jews complained about, the young daughter of Israeli expats sits 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.”
In another ad, a dozing Israeli expat father is deaf to his son’s calls of “Daddy!” until the kid finally says “Abba!” The tagline: “Before ‘Abba’ turns into ‘Daddy,’ it’s time to come back to Israel.”
“While we recognize the motivations behind the ad campaign, we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel,” Jewish Federations leaders wrote to their board of trustees. “We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, told Haaretz the ads were "heavy-handed, and even demeaning."
According to the Haaretz report, Israeli’s Foreign Ministry consulted with the Absorption Ministry after receiving several complaints from American Jews and was told that the feedback from Israelis who live in the United States was positive.
Watch the ads: