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Did You Know That Israeli Government Doesn’t Think Much of Jews in the Diaspora?

December 1, 2011

Site header for the page Israel's Ministry for Absorption & Immigration put up to entice Israelis leaving abroad to return.

Most American Jewish supporters of Israel are familiar with the word, “aliyah.”  The Hebrew word literally means to “go-up.”  As such, one is performing an aliyah when being called up to recite a bracha, a blessing over the sacred Torah.  Likewise, when a Jewish person elects to settle in the Holy Land of Israel, he or she is said to be “making aliyah.”

Another Hebrew word I learned a long time ago is ears ago is, yerida, “to go down,” which is a derogatory reference to Israelis who have chosen to emigrate to other countries such as the U.S..  The clear inference being, they have spiritually degraded themselves by choosing to leave the sacred homeland.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Israelis in general and the Israeli government in particular would love for the estimated, 750 thousand Israelis who now live abroad, to return to the land of their birth.  After all, Israel needs them:  to maintain a credible Jewish community in a country where the non-Jewish population has a higher birth rate; to sustain the tax base; to ensure an ample military reserve; to help physically and economically build a young country that is on the cutting edge of technology and actually has a stronger economy these days than most Western countries.

The question is, how might Israel lure their lost sons and daughters home?

Before we discuss the strategy Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has adopted for that effort, let’s consider a couple of questions:  What would you tell your adult-child about dating someone who you knew for a fact, only wanted to date him or her for sex and would never consider marrying him/her?
What would you say to a cousin who is always asking you for financial assistance, but you know speaks contemptuously about you behind your back?

Writing with rage and shame in the most recent edition of The Atlantic magazine, renowned author and columnist Jeffrey Goldberg takes the Netanyahu government to task for a number of  commercials produced by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to entice Israelis living abroad to return home.

The commercials blatantly suggest some very offensive ideas: that there is no “real” Jewish life outside of Israel and Diaspora Jews aren’t quiet as “Jewish” as Israelis.

In one commercial, we see two Israeli grandparents sitting in front of a lit Chanukah Menorah, Skyping with their granddaughter in America.  They ask her in Hebrew if she knows what holiday today is; she replies, “Christmas.”  In other words, Jewish children outside of Israel don’t know from Chanukah, only Christmas.  True?

In another commercial, we find a Jewish-looking male American partner of an Israeli woman named Dafna, walking into their home and finding her sitting in a dimly lit room with candles burning.  Being a typical, boorish, horny American, he assumes  Dafna is simply creating ambiance for a night of passion.   But we quickly realize Dafna is not in a lustful mood.  Dafna is in fact, very sad.  She is staring at the computer screen which headlines the fact that today in Israel is, “Yom Hazikaron,” Israel’s memorial day for their fallen soldiers.  The voice over states in Hebrew:  “They will never understand what it means to be Israeli.

Let’s get some facts clear that fly directly in face of the message proposed by these insulting productions:

  1. While it is true, that Israel is the eternal historic and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, there is an equally large and flourishing Jewish community outside of Israel.  And we’re not just going through the motions out-here, we’re real Jews too!
  2. Yes, Jews living in the Diaspora have to work harder at sustaining their Jewish identities than Israelis do.  And please tell the Israeli government that we are doing that quite effectively.  In fact, unlike Israel, Diaspora Jewry has successfully created a very vibrant non-Orthodox religious Jewish community. Israel today is primarily divided between Orthodox and secular Jews.  Come Chanukah this year, I’m willing to bet that a higher proportion of non-Orthodox Jewish children in the Diaspora will light Chanukah candles than in Israel.

There are countless other messages the Israeli government could be sending to Israelis living abroad without insulting the proverbial hand of the Diaspora Jewish community that Israel has been financially and politically dependent upon since the state’s inception.  I’m sorry that some Israelis choose to live abroad; that is their choice and I respect it. But may I suggest that Israel might want to try enticing them to come home by:

  1. Reminding them that jobs are plentiful in Israel where has been no recession.
  2. Pointing out that when you are a resident of Israel, you are not just a taxpayer and a consumer, you a valued nation-builder.
  3. And by suggesting that Israelis abroad help their homeland by not only returning, but bringing with them some of the impressive friends, colleagues and professionals they have met in the Diaspora!

We Jews in the Diaspora have not surrendered our Jewish identities as implied in these ridiculous commercials. In fact, this American Zionist, is quite sure that he is a valued, contributing member of the 21st Century’s world Jewish community.  Like Jeffrey Goldberg, I am angry and disappointed that a State that I love and have given so much too in my life, would suggest otherwise. And please don’t tell me that the message wasn’t meant for me; don’t patronize me when you need my help, only to disparage me behind my back.  I expect more from family.

UPDATE:  APPARENTLY, ENOUGH AMERICAN JEWS EXPRESSED DISAPPROVAL OF THIS CAMPAIGN: ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2, PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU ORDERED THE VIDEOS AND BILLBOARDS REMOVED! 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Janice permalink
    December 2, 2011 7:58 AM

    While I usually strongly agree with your postings, I’m not so happy with this one. If these ads are to appeal to yordim, they have to appeal to them on their level. The examples are not so wrong and you are incorrect about the number on non-orthodox who light hanukiot. We were there once and EVERYONE has a hanukiah and MANY are in permanent special outdoor display cases. Never saw anything like it. Even amongst the secular Jewish Israelis there is strong cultural acceptance of holidays like Hanukkah and Purim–way more than what we have here. I think Yordim feel the overwhelming Xmas presence more than we do (we’re used to it). And the selection of Yom Hazikaron is intentional. Outside of Israel, it is minimally observed but in Israel it is huge. Most every family is personally touched by loss of either a family member or a friend. These commercials are just trying to appeal to their audience and actually I think they are pretty clever in trying to hit them where they are at emotionally and not intellectually.

  2. December 8, 2011 3:41 PM

    Ads were solely product of minister of absorption a lady who emigrated to israel from Russia in the late 70s.

    Her office was implicated back in 2006 in theft of vase and papers by her assistant from MK Ruchama Avraham’s room in the Kniesset. She apologized then saying it was accidental whereas camera footage showed it was deliberate.

    Now she apologizes once more, this time regarding those ads.

    Who knows if a wedge was trying to be made in US-Israel relations.

    Anyway, Netanyahu ordered cease of ads and case closed.

    • December 8, 2011 7:25 PM

      Thanks Don,for the important info about the person responsible for the ads. But as a number of thoughtful commentators have pointed out in recent days, the ad did reflect a very “classic” Zionist mentality about how hopeless, limited and time bound Jewish life in the diaspora is. If David Ben Gurion had the money and the chutzpah to produce ads to attract Olim during the first decade of Israel’s existence, I’m not sure he wouldn’t have touched on similar themes.

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