US & Canada

US Jewish outcry over Israeli expat 'return' ads

YouTube screen shot of Israeli ad showing young woman mourning on Yom Hizikaron
Image caption In the ad, the boyfriend of "Dafna" doesn't understand why she's mourning

The Israeli government has ordered adverts that urge Israelis in the US to return home to be pulled amid outcry from the American Jewish community.

The ads suggest expats could lose touch with their Israeli identity because of assimilation into the US.

Funded by an Israeli government agency, the campaign was criticised by US Jewish organisations.

The ads were posted on the agency's website and ran on Hebrew-language US satellite channels.

The campaign, which featured billboards in some US cities, has three Hebrew-language video ads.

'Deeply insulting'

In the first, the English-speaking boyfriend of a young woman mistakes candles and music - marking Yom Hazikaron, Israeli's memorial day - for a romantic date.

The ad ends with a voice over: "They will always remain Israelis. Their partners won't always understand what that means. Help them return to Israel."

The second ad in the campaign shows a young girl video-chatting with her grandparents in Israel during Hanukkah. They look surprised after they ask her what holiday it is and she replies: "Christmas."

In another, a young boy attempts to get his father's attention with "Daddy", but finds more success when he uses the word "Abba", Hebrew for father.

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, a current affairs magazine, wrote earlier this week: "I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads."

On Friday, Goldberg published a statement from the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.

"The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's campaign clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities, and we regret any offence it caused," the statement said.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu, once made aware of the campaign, ordered the videos immediately removed from YouTube, and he ordered that the billboards be removed as well."

A letter from the Jewish Federations of North America to the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which funded the ads, called the campaign's "messages that American Jews do not understand Israel deeply insulting and simply outrageous".

Another prominent US Jewish organisation, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the ads were "heavy-handed, and even demeaning".

"While we appreciate the rationale behind the Israeli government's appeal to its citizens living in the US to return to Israel, we are concerned that some may be offended by what the video implies about American Jewry," said Abraham Foxman, director of the ADL.

The ADL told the BBC on Friday it was "pleased" the ads would no longer be used.

On Thursday, the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption issued a statement to the AFP news agency saying that the campaign was not directed at the US Jewish community.

"The recent claims, according to which the Israeli government is attempting to intervene in the personal choices of US Jews or to discount their lifestyle, has no connection to reality," the statement read.

"The Immigration Absorption Ministry cherishes and values the Jewish community in the US, and acknowledges its strong bond with Israel."

Israeli government officials told Haaretz, an Israeli English-language newspaper, that the campaign was launched in response to positive feedback from Israelis living in the US.

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