Immigration and Absorption Ministry
Immigration and Absorption Ministry campaign to return expatriate Israelis.
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An Immigration and Absorption Ministry campaign in the United States to convince expatriate Israelis to return has raised the ire of American Jewish groups.

The campaign warns Israelis that if they continue to live in the United States, they or their children are likely to become assimilated.

The drive began at the end of September with billboards in cities with large concentrations of Israelis, including New York, Los Angeles and Palo Alto. The messages included "Before Hanukkah turns into Christmas, it's time to come back to Israel," and "Before Abba turns into Daddy, it's time to come back to Israel."

The ministry then posted videos on its website and other websites with similar messages. One shows a set of Israeli grandparents, a menorah lit behind them, Skyping with their children and granddaughter in the United States. When the grandmother asks the girl if she knows what holiday it is and she answers "Christmas!" the four adults give each other worried looks.

Jewish activists and aides to both Jewish and non-Jewish members of Congress have been complaining to the Israeli consulates in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For one thing, they said, the campaign could be viewed as degrading Christmas.

Over the past few days, as several columnists began to take critical note of the campaign, some Jewish leaders began to protest.

"We find these videos heavy-handed, and even demeaning," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. "While we appreciate the rationale behind the Israeli government's appeal to its citizens living in the U.S. to return to Israel, we are concerned that some may be offended by what the video implies about American Jewry."

A senior Foreign Ministry official expressed dismay that a campaign that risked insulting American Jews had been mounted without consulting with his ministry.

"We only found out about it from the complaints that reached the consulates," the official said.

The Foreign Ministry asked the Absorption Ministry for clarifications, and the answer it got was that the campaign was launched in response to surveys taken among Israelis who live in the United States, and that the feedback has been positive.

The Absorption Ministry said the campaign was not aimed at American Jews but at expatriate Israelis, and stressed that it "respects and appreciates the American Jewish community and recognizes its strong connection to Israel."