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December 19, 2011 11:18 am

Danon: No Offense Intended In Israel’s Ad Campaign

avatar by Danny Danon

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The ads Israel is running encourage expats to return home. Photo: Dovbear.

The State of Israel has always prided itself on being not only a home to its native citizens, but a haven for Jews from across the globe. For years, The Ministry of Immigration Absorption has successfully focused on attracting Jews from around the world to make aliyah and reconnect with their homeland. This past year alone, over 19,000 Jewish people chose to leave their countries of residence to start life anew in the Jewish State. With so much effort spent on welcoming these Jews from aboard, the ministry runs the risk of losing sight of another pressing concern: the deflating number of our own citizens.

Despite Israel’s ever growing economy, some of our citizens choose to leave Israel in search of a more prosperous future. While they more often than not retain their Israeli identities by living in areas populated by other sabras, these mini-Israel communities abroad can never really live up to the real thing. In an effort to remind our Israeli emigrants of the unique qualities of their homeland, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has launched a now infamous campaign meant to remind Israeli expatriates that no matter where they currently reside, there’s no place like home.

It has come to my attention that some American Jews felt offended by these ads. Admittedly, like any successful campaign, these commercials were intended to get people talking; however they were never meant to offend. Israeli and American Jews have always shared an extremely tight relationship that is not to be taken for granted. Legions of Zionist supporters abroad have ensured Israel’s continued survival, and their tireless support has helped many an Israeli sleep easier. Having myself spent some time working in the United States as a shaliach for the Jewish Agency in Miami, I’ve come to know the unique challenges that American Jewry faces. Living as an integrated part of American society, while fighting the effects of assimilation, is arguably the most difficult task that Jewish communities outside of Israel face. While Jewish families abroad have grown accustomed to weathering these challenges and working hard to maintain their unique identities, many Israeli emigrants have never had to cope with these added social pressures.

Though I can see why some Jews living abroad would be uneasy with advertisements whose subtext may seem to suggest that it is more difficult to maintain a Jewish identity outside of the State of Israel, it is essential to note that the intention of this campaign was not to pass judgment on our American brothers and sisters. Sensitivities aside, the fact of the matter is, that each year thousands of well-trained, highly skilled Israeli professionals are leaving the country’s borders to find employment elsewhere. These expatriates represent an invaluable human resource for our country, and the job of the Israeli government is to do whatever possible to direct these people back to their home.

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Israel will always be the homeland of the Jewish people; that being said, not every domestic policy that Israel’s government pioneers is necessarily aimed at the Jewish Diaspora. With Israeli and Jewish culture being so closely intertwined, the truth is that the Israeli national character, including the Hebrew language, civic holidays, and remembering our fallen heroes, is by no means exclusive to residents. That being said, there are certain trappings of Israeli culture that cannot be emulated in America. Special moments like bustling streets freezing completely in time, while pedestrians and drivers commemorate our war-dead, or sufganiot lining each baker’s window rather than gingerbread are the charms that our government hopes to portray to woo our expatriates back home.

To ensure that we do not find ourselves in this situation again, my committee has recommended to all the relevant agencies and organizations that a higher level of coordination be implemented. This means that Israeli ministries such as the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Absorption, the Ministry of Information and Diaspora Affairs and the Foreign Ministry must coordinate before setting out on such an ambitious campaign. We, as Israelis, must also be much more sensitive to our brethren in the Jewish communities around the world. A higher level of consultation could have enabled us to avoid this whole situation.

Admittedly, for all the celebrated charms of the Israeli character, subtlety is not among our strongest attributes. While it is unfortunate that our counterparts in the Diaspora felt uneasy about these ads, we hope they recognize the intention and reasoning behind the campaign. Through mutual respect and admiration I am sure that our two communities will move beyond this incident and continue to focus on the important issues that are truly significant to us all.

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