A provocative ‘time to return’ set of advertisements created by the Israeli government and aimed at expatriates has been scrapped after outrage from American Jews.
The ads suggesting that Israeli Jews may be corrupted by Christian influence and North America cultures and urged Israeli émigrés to return, lest their children lose the sense of identity.
In one, a little girl is happily video-chatting with her Israeli grandparents who have a Menorah burning in the background. The child is asked what holiday she is celebrating and exultantly exclaims “Christmas” to the evident dismay of the older couple back in Israel.
Then the ad, produced by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, warns: “They will remain Israeli, their children won’t. Help them come home.”
In another, a young Israeli woman is solemnly marking the nation’s dead on Yom Hazikaron, the day of remembrance. Her American boyfriend has mistaken the subdued lighting and the candles as an indicator she is seeking a romantic evening. “They will remain Israelis, their partners won’t always understand,” warns the ad.
The ads, still widely available on YouTube and other Internet sites, also spawned spoofs. In one, an argumentative Israeli bargains in an American department to the evident confusion of the clerk who is unused to Middle Eastern haggling.
In addition to the television ads, billboards in Hollywood and other American cities with large numbers of expatriate Israelis have carried similar messages; warning, for instance, that it’s time to return to Israel when Americanized children fail to address their fathers in Hebrew.
Urging the yordim – Israelis who have emigrated – to return is a longstanding Israeli policy. The ads were apparently aimed at the estimated 600,000 Israelis believed to have emigrated to North America. It was the bluntness of the campaign and the not-so-subtle suggestions that living among mostly secular American Jews may corrupt Israeli identity angered many in the United States.
The ad series, called “It’s Time to Return to Israel” was broadcast on Israeli TV and in key American markets.
The Atlantic’s award-winning columnist Jeffrey Goldberg mocked the campaign as offensive and ridiculous. While the migration minister first defended it, spreading anger among American Jews quickly forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and scrap the campaign.
“The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offense it caused,” the Israeli embassy 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.”
The whole vexed issue of return and migration to Israel reaches far beyond whether a particular ad campaign was ill-advised or offensive. Israel continues to actively encourage aliya – the migration to Israel of all Jews as well as actively encouraging expatriates to come home. At the same time, the return of Palestinians who fled Israel remains one of the toughest unresolved issues in the moribund peace process.