Does Israel have a problem with American Jews?

Benjamin Netanyahu's government unveils an ad campaign urging expats to come home, and some Jews in the U.S. find the message insulting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is trying to woo Israeli expats to come home with an ad campaign that suggests there's something wrong with being Jewish in America, cri
(Image credit: Pool/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has launched an advertising campaign in five U.S. cities aiming to persuade Israelis living abroad to return home. In one commercial, an elderly couple in Israel with a menorah behind them asks their granddaughter in America, via Skype, what holiday she is celebrating. Instead of Hanukkah, the little girl giddily declares, "Christmas!" The grandparents respond with a concerned look. (Watch the clip, in Hebrew, below.) In another ad, the American boyfriend of an Israeli woman fails to understand her sadness on Israel's version of Memorial Day. Is this a perfectly reasonable appeal to expats' patriotism, or a slap in the face to American Jews?

The Netanyahu government is insulting Americans: "I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads," says Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. "The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid ... but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters." Apparently, Netanyahu's government thinks that "America is no place for a proper Jew." That's appalling.

"Netanyahu government suggests Israelis avoid marrying American Jews"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

But Israeli identity is different: "This ad is not about Jews, it's about Israelis," says Joel Braunold in Israel's Haaretz. The real message is that "you will always remain Israeli and your partner might not be able to understand what is important to you." In Israel, "the national identity and that of the Jewish people" are fused into one, and reminding expats of that is one way to get them to come home at a time when their country needs them.

"Embracing a hyphenated Jewish identity: in Israel and the Diaspora"

C'mon. There has to be a less offensive way to say this: "It's one thing for Israel to try and convince expats to come home lest they assimilate into a foreign culture," says Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary. But it's quite another to imply that "hooking up with an American Jew will cause them to lose their secular Israeli identity." This strategy reinforces "the divide between Israelis and Americans rather than bridging it."

"Israel ad campaign targeting expats raises troubling questions of identity"

Watch one of the commercials, and judge for yourself:

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.