Israeli ad campaign unsettles US jews

An ad campaign in the US paid for by the Israeli government has left many Jewish Americans feeling insulted. The commercials, designed to encourage Israeli Jews to return to their roots, seem to have done more harm than good.

­RT’s Paula Slier talked to a family living in Brooklyn, New York. Gal Beckerman is Israeli, married to Deborah Kolben, an American Jewish woman. Together with their young daughter, they could be the family featured in the controversial advertisement campaign.

“What it was saying was that my husband shouldn’t have married me,”
Deborah says. “The emotional response was just kind of ‘ouch’.”

There were three ads sponsored by the Israeli government and aired across the United States that evoked more than just an “ouch” from American Jews.

One features an Israeli couple asking what festival it is – and the American grand-daughter happily answers “Christmas,” instead of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The implied suggestion was that Jewish identity is being diluted in America – and that has angered many Jews who live there.

Another ad shows a toddler calling “Daddy, Daddy” to his napping Israeli expatriate father who finally wakes up only when his son switches to Hebrew. American Jews felt insulted by the suggestion that Israeli Jewish identity was more pure than American Jewish identity.

“I think that what bothered me most about the ads is that it came from a place of almost fear-mongering, they were almost trying to scare people, Israelis who were living here,” Gal explains.

The ads were designed to encourage Israelis living in the United States to come home. But critics complained they smacked of arrogance, ignorance and cultural disrespect for America. Instead of giving positive reasons for expats to return to Israel, they failed to address why many had left in the first place.

“I think a lot of American Jews look to what’s going on in Israel and what’s developing in the parliament in particular and feel extremely alienated from that. And they say to themselves, ‘This is not the Israel that we fell in love with, this is not the Israel that we want to defend,’” Gal believes.

American Jewry has always been more liberal than Israeli society. They traditionally vote Democrat and are often open to a less orthodox practice of Judaism than their Israeli counterparts

For years a rift has been growing between the two, much of it based on the aggressive policies of Tel Aviv, particularly towards Gaza and the occupation. The parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still show no signs of compromise. And consecutive Israeli governments have been unable or unwilling to reach agreement with the Palestinians, leaving many American Jews feeling more and more alienated from Israel.

“Does some of what’s going on in the Israeli public sphere trouble some North American Jews? Trouble them very-very greatly? I have no question that that’s the case,” says Rebecca Caspi from the Jewish Federations of North America.

Since the late 1960s, Israel has built hundreds of thousands of homes in the West Bank. More than half a million people now live in settlements. And just this month, Tel Aviv announced it was issuing tenders for a thousand more homes to be built across the Green Line, evoking anger and condemnation from the international community.

As many as a million – one in eight Israelis – live outside the country. Losing their allegiance would be bad for the Israeli government.

“Israel knows it needs American Jewish support, it cannot allow itself at this point to insult them, or to distance itself from them,” says Yossi Gurvitz, an Israeli journalist and blogger.

In the last five years, the number of people who choose to leave the Holy Land has outpaced those wanting to come and live in Israel. And although the ads themselves are no longer on air, the reasons that they provoked such a backlash in the first place are far from resolved.