Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews

By Jeffrey Goldberg

The Netanyahu government's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is sponsoring advertisements in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don't return home.

The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America -- one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they're celebrating, she says "Christmas." In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's memorial day. The Jewish Channel, which broke the story of what it calls a "semi-covert national campaign," suggests that the Ministry does not differentiate between the "dangers" of marrying American Jews, and American non-Jews, and I have to agree. But let's lay that aside for a minute and watch the video:



The narrator says, in essence, "they will never understand what it means to be Israeli." The narration leaves no room for the possibility that "Dafna," the Israeli girlfriend, could explain to the Josh-character (my name for him, though it could be Jeremy as well) why she's sad on Memorial Day.

And here's the in-your-face Christmas ad:


I don't think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads. I understand the impulse behind them: Israel wants as many of its citizens as possible to live in Israel. This is not an abnormal desire. But the way it is expressed, in wholly negative terms, is somewhat appalling. How about, "Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.'s"? Or, "It's always sunny in Israel"? Or, "Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you"?

These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the "Christmas" ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren't in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs. (I'm not even going to try to unpack my complicated beliefs about intermarriage and assimilation and life in the Diaspora here; that's for a book. But let me just say that intermarriage can also be understood as an opportunity.)

The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don't mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.

UPDATE: The Jewish Federations of North America apparently agree with my analysis.


UPDATE: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to immediately shut down the ad campaign. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/11/netanyahu-government-suggests-israelis-avoid-marrying-american-jews/249166/