Netanyahu - AP - 24112011
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by AP
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In the face of harsh criticism by American Jewish organizations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ordered the shelving of a public relations campaign that had been designed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return to Israel. The campaign, which had been conducted by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry in areas of the United States with large numbers of Israelis, highlighted the risk of assimilation, particularly among the children of Israelis and their loss of Israeli and Jewish identity. American Jewish organizations claimed the campaign delegitimized U.S. Jewry. Over the last few days, the American media began to report widely on the reaction of Jews in the United States to the campaign.

Jewish Federations of North America, an organization representing Jewish communities throughout the United States, sent a letter to Netanyahu saying such a campaign could hurt relations between American Jews and Israel. The group called on the prime minister to halt the advertising effort immediately.

On Friday, Israel's ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, held a round of telephone calls with reporters from Jewish media outlets in the United States and informed them that Netanyahu had in fact decided to shelve the campaign. Oren also gave a number of television interviews in an effort to defuse the situation. Surprisingly, however, neither Oren nor the Prime Minister's Office informed the Israeli media of the step.

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry launched the campaign with billboards in New York, Los Angeles and in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, in September, with messages such as "Before Hanukkah turns into Christmas, the time has come to return to Israel" and, in a reference to the Hebrew word for "daddy," another that stated "Before 'Abba' becomes 'Daddy,' the time has come to return to Israel." A series of three Internet video clips highlighted similar themes, warning that children of Israelis in the United States will not have an Israeli identity and that an American spouse of an Israeli would not always understand the importance, for example, of Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day.

The campaign did not take the sensitivities of American Jewry into account, Oren said in a statement, and he expressed regret if it had offended anyone. He said the campaign was conducted without the knowledge of Netanyahu or his office and without the knowledge of the embassy in Washington.