Jewish Agency Pulls Controversial 'Lost Jews' Ads

Anti-assimilation campaign meant to strengthen Diaspora Jews' ties to Israel imploded in a storm of criticism.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has yanked an anti-assimilation ad campaign that has outraged Jews abroad. The campaign was co-sponsored by the government.

On Saturday, Sharansky ordered the offending newspaper ads pulled, as well as a video clip portraying young Jews who may marry non-Jews as lost or missing.

The campaign was supposed to strengthen Diaspora Jews' ties to Israel but imploded in a storm of criticism from religious leaders, bloggers and editorial writers, who saw it as an affront to the children of mixed marriages.

The Movement for Progressive Judaism and a leading Jewish Agency official demanded that Sharansky halt the campaign, which urged Israelis to report on Diaspora Jews involved in relationships with non-Jews.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, chairman of the movement - the Reform stream in Israel - and the agency's aliyah department chief, Paula Edelstein, attacked both the content and the message of the campaign. "It presents the Israel MASA program as a defensive measure against a threat to the future of the Jewish people - namely, assimilation," they said in a letter. "It uses harsh visual means that provoke some very bad associations...It depicts [life in Diaspora] as illegitimate and as leading Jews to lose their identities," the letter read.

"It's a spit in the face to Diaspora Jews and organizations," Kariv told Haaretz. "The entire MASA program is based on partnership between Israeli and Diaspora organizations, and then this campaign comes along saying they are second-rate Jews."

Kariv added: "All Diaspora Jews who have seen the ad were absolutely appalled. The feeling is that we moved 30 years backward with negative rhetoric of contempt for Jewish life in the Diaspora."

MASA officials said the campaign was planned in two stages. The first stage ended last week and the second - enhancing the program's goals - began this week.