The Israeli government has canceled a public relations campaign aimed at encouraging Israelis living in the US to return to the Jewish state after a wave of complaints.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the campaign to be shelved after receiving a letter from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) that said the message of the advertisements and videos was “outrageous and insulting.”
Under the slogan “It’s time to return to Israel,” the campaign suggested that expatriate Israelis and their children were at risk of losing touch with their Jewish roots and of being assimilated into US society and culture.
One video showed a girl telling her grandparents in Israel she was celebrating Christmas instead of Hanukkah. The video ended with the words: “Before Hanukkah turns into Christmas, it’s time to return to Israel.”
A billboard advertisement displayed in New York, Los Angeles and Palo Alto, California, featured a boy calling his father “Daddy” instead of “Abba,” the Hebrew word for father.
“Before ‘Abba’ becomes ‘Daddy,’ it’s time to return to Israel,” the ads said.
The campaign, launched in September by Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry, sparked strong criticism from Jewish commentators and activists in the US.
The JFNA e-mailed its members, saying: “While we recognise the motivations behind the ad campaign, we are strongly opposed to the messaging that American Jews do not understand Israel. We share the concerns many of you have expressed that this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.”
Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine described it as a “ridiculous Diaspora-bashing ad campaign, which was meant to guilt Israeli expatriates in America into going home.”
The message of the campaign was that “America is no place for a proper Jew,” he wrote.
The ads were “heavy-handed and even demeaning,” Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren embarked on a round of placatory telephone calls and television interviews to express regret for any offense and announce that Netanyahu had ordered a halt to the campaign.
“The campaign, which aimed to encourage Israelis living abroad to return home, was a laudable one, and it was not meant to cause insult,” Oren said in a statement.
It “was conducted without the knowledge or approval of the prime minister’s office or of the Israeli embassy in Washington,” he said.
The Israeli Cabinet passed a resolution last year to encourage its citizens in the US to return, offering financial incentives. The move was an attempt to reverse a brain drain, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said.
When the prime minister heard of the “sensitivities and concerns” expressed by the US Jewish community, he ordered the campaign to be suspended, Regev said.