Why Israel's Expat Campaign Offended So Many U.S. Jews

This ad campaign - while having the right intentions - was completely disrespectful and a huge waste of money.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry campaign to return expatriate Israelis created a firestorm in the American Jewish community.

The idea that Israelis could give up on Israel and live their lives in another land has always been an anathema to the Zionist movement, and poses an existential threat to the country. This is evident in its simplest form in the language used to describe people who emigrate from Israel, "Yordim" (going down), which has clearly negative connotations, as opposed to the term given to Jews who immigrate to Israel, "Olim" (rising up).

Israeli expats living in U.S., ad campaign
Carine Warsawski

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry's ad campaign was intended to pull at the heartstrings of expatriate Israelis. The ads were posted on billboards across the United States, mainly in communities where there is a high concentration of Israeli expatriates, such as Los Angeles and Miami. In addition, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry put up videos on their website for the campaign. These ads show the viewers that they will always be Israelis while their children will not be, and that they will lose their Jewish roots in the melting pot of assimilation. These ads - while having the right intentions - portray the message in a way that was completely disrespectful to American Jews, while being a huge waste of money.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to pull the ad campaign as well as the YouTube videos associated with them was the right decision to make. The advertisements blatantly insulted American Jews and should never have been published in the first place. In announcing the pulling of the ads, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, acknowledged the hurtful nature of the ads and the reasoning behind why they were pulled.

But there was something disturbing about Oren's announcement: the statement that neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Israeli Embassy in Washington was forewarned of the campaign. This could either be the truth or just a game of politics, but I am not sure which is worse.

If they knew about the ad campaign and let it go through, it shows that the complete disregard for American Jews goes through to the highest levels of Israeli government.

If in fact they did not know about the campaign, then that is most certainly worse. For an internal government agency to start an advertising campaign in a foreign country without having first received the requisite permissions is a show of complete incompetence. How is it that, according to a report in the Jewish Channel's Weekly Jewish News, three million shekels were spent on the campaign, billboards were put up, commercials aired on Israeli satellite channels, and a website was built, and neither the prime minister nor Israel's ambassador to the U.S. knew about it? Didn't anybody in the Immigration and Absorption Ministry think to run this by the Prime Minister's Office or the embassy of the country in which this ad campaign was to take place? This is simply abhorrent!

These advertisements portray a view of Israelis living abroad who are losing their Israeliness as well as their "Jewishness" by the very fact that they live in the United States. One of the ads shows grandparents based in Israel having a video-chat with their children and grandchild who live in America during the holiday season. The grandparents, who are shown with a lit Menorah in the background celebrating Hanukkah, ask their granddaughter if she knows what holiday it is. The assimilated granddaughter answers, Christmas! In response, the grandparents look at each other and at the girl's parents with a wary glance. The advertisement ends with the narrator saying They will always be Israelis, their children wont. This advertisement argues that it is impossible for Israelis to live a real Jewish life outside of Israel. While not only being completely untrue, this argument is quite offensive to American Jews.

Immigration and Absorption Ministry

Perhaps such advertisements would be more relevant in a country where there is no existing Jewish community. But certainly not in the U.S.

In addition to being an affront to the American Jewish community, these ads are a huge waste of money and resources. They were funded by the already pressed budget of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, who – instead of funding new Ulpan programs, building new absorption centers, or giving more money directly to new immigrants – decided to waste the money on putting together this ad campaign. That money would have been better spent furthering the goals of the ministry here in Israel, and not overseas.

The idea of bringing Israeli expatriates back to Israel is a noble one and in line with the beliefs and values of the Zionist cause. These commercials and billboards are not. Instead of appealing to expatriates' logic, by extolling Israels economic stability in these tough monetary times worldwide or showing openings in the Israeli job market, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry decided to reach for their hearts, and failed miserably.

The advertisements did not give Israel a good name, offended American Jews, and were a complete misappropriation of direly needed funds. Netanyahu must get his house in order immediately. No government agency should be able to get around the prime minister when implementing government policy, especially with regards to such a delicate topic. Israel must get its priorities together and come up with an effective way to get expatriates back to Israel, without insulting American Jews in the process.

Zachary Katowitz is an IDF veteran who is the director of volunteer operations at FriendaSoldier.com and is studying for a degree in Government.