Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) on Wednesday defended a controversial public relations campaign produced by her office, saying it was her job to return Israelis living abroad, but also apologizing if the campaign hurt the Diaspora Jewish community.
The campaign focused on YouTube videos encouraging Israelis living abroad to return to Israel by showing how their children were losing their Israeli, and possibly their Jewish, identities. The ads were personally scrapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after drawing across-the-board condemnation from American Jewish leaders, who argued that the videos negated a very vibrant Israeli and Jewish presence in the Diaspora.
"I'm proud that after years of ignoring the issue, Israel made an effort to bring Israelis back from abroad," Landver said Wednesday at a meeting of the Knesset Diaspora Committee.
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MK Danny Danon (Likud), who heads the World Likud Association and is in frequent contact with U.S. Jewry, chastised Landver for not coordinating the campaign with the Prime Minister's Office, the Diaspora Ministry, or the Foreign Ministry.
One video shows an elderly Jewish couple distraught over their Israeli-born granddaughter’s celebration of Christmas in the U.S.. Another shows an American boyfriend not understanding why his Israeli expatriate girlfriend is sad on Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day). A third clip shows a toddler calling “Daddy! Daddy!” to his napping Israeli expatriate father, who only awakens when the child switches to Hebrew and calls out “Abba!”
The Jewish Federations of North America called the ads insulting. Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham H. Foxman said they were “heavy-handed and even demeaning.”
A prominent Jewish blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote, "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."
Landver denied that Netanyahu stopped the campaign, even though officials from the Prime Minister's Office said he pulled the plug on it "immediately" after he became aware of the American reactions. "The campaign ended a month ago because we used all the funds," Landver said.
Landver read out a letter from an Israeli in Australia which expressed "support [and] encouragement" for the NIS 3 million ($780,000) campaign. "No country can give up on a million of its citizens. It's a lie to say that Israelis aren't assimilating overseas. This isn't a sad day. This is a good day when Israelis come home. Is someone here opposed to Israelis coming home?" the letter said.
"I have nothing substantive to apologize for, but I was raised to be sorry if I hurt someone. The Jewish community was not the focus of this campaign. I apologize to the community if it was hurt," Landver said, adding that the campaign was preceded by market research among Israelis abroad.
"We received a huge number of compliments for the campaign. In the past four years, 40,000 Israelis have returned home. That's a success for the absorption ministry," she added.
Absorption Ministry spokesman Elad Sonn said the campaign was coordinated with the PMO. "Research shows Israelis abroad miss Israel terribly, want their kids to grow up Israeli, and that Israeli bachelors want to date Israelis," he said.
MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), a former director of the Jewish Federations in Israel, said that the campaign "didn't understand what Jewish life is in America today. It proves Minister Landver doesn't understand American Jewry. The attempt to tell Israeli Jews that their American Jewish boyfriend won't comprehend memorial day is insulting."
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