Usually when another blogger sufficiently channels my own anger about something that has me piqued, I tend to just try and let it go and give them the last word. And that was my first reaction this morning when I read, with increasing agitation, Jeffrey Goldberg’s post about a new Israeli ad campaign targeted at yordim, those ex-pat Israelis who have made their home in the States. He managed to capture the utter absurdity of its scare mongering approach. Even if you marry an American Jew, your children won’t know the difference between Chanukah and Christmas! They will never call you Aba! Goldberg also pointed out something that should have been apparent to the geniuses who came up with this idea: that these ads might just alienate American Jews a bit. And, also, if Israel is concerned about losing its citizens to the West — not an illegitimate concern — then maybe they could think of a more positive way of calling them back home than telling them they will be responsible for erasing the Jewish people.
I guess I’m not done.
You see, I am the child of yordim, the fearful spawn that the ads refer to, those “who will not remain Israeli.” And it’s more than a little offensive to see my entire Jewish (and, yes, Israeli) identity dismissed as irrelevant because of my parents’ decision to emigrate before I was born. Not only do I speak Hebrew fluently, know just a little bit about the Jewish holidays, and, yes, call my father “Aba” — but so does my two-year-old daughter!
I understand the Zionist demographic necessity of actually living in Israel, but if there were ever a chance that someone like me and my family would move there, this is not the approach to take. It also won’t work with my parents, who have built comfortable lives in Los Angeles inside what you could call an Israeli ex-pat bubble — their friends are Israeli, they watch Israeli satellite television, buy Yediot Ahronot at the Steimatzky, and can even pick up my father’s favorite pickles at the Supersol. And after a month in Israel this summer, my daughter now tells them that she wants to eat glida and then go get a treat at Abulafia (a famous bakery in Jaffa).
The worst part about this campaign is that it points to something deeply defective in the Israeli psyche: the notion that fear is the only motivating factor that anyone can come up with for selling the country. In this case it’s fear of assimilation, of oblivion, of erasure. It betrays a terrible insecurity. There are many things that attract me to Israel and make me feel continually connected, and none of them have to do with this small human emotion that only expresses itself in pathological ways (like these damn commercials!). I am attracted instead by the forthcoming quality of Israelis, their openness, confidence, and their unmovable rootedness, not just to the land but to their identities as Jews as well. This ad campaign would make more sense coming from what the earlier Zionists despised as the shtetl Jew, small and absolutely terrified of venturing beyond the walls of the ghetto.
I don’t know what else to say besides adding this to my growing list of exasperating examples of hasbara. I guess I will give the last word to Goldberg after all. He can still laugh:
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”?
Gal Beckerman is the Forward’s Opinion Editor. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Contact Gal Beckerman at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @galbeckerman