Israel pulls ads wooing expats after Jewish criticism
The ad featuring a pair of Israeli grandparents, disappointed to hear their American granddaughter was celebrating Christmas, was pulled.
December 2nd, 2011
04:12 PM ET

Israel pulls ads wooing expats after Jewish criticism

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

(CNN) - The ad shows a young girl on her mother’s lap, video-chatting with her grandparents, who live in Israel and who are pictured with four candles burning brightly on a menorah behind them.

When the Jewish grandmother asks the child what holiday it is, she replies “Christmas!” instead of Hanukkah; the joy drains from the grandparents’ faces as they turn to each other in disappointment.

This Hebrew-language spot, titled, “It's time to return to Israel before Hanukkah becomes Christmas,” was removed from the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s YouTube channel Friday after it unleashed criticism from many Jews.

Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the ad, and a handful of others like it, be taken down.

“The prime minister’s office knew nothing about these ads,” Oren said. “They weren’t brought to the prime minister’s office for approval, we had no knowledge of them, and as soon they were brought to my attention, I brought them to the prime minister’s attention this morning, and he immediately ordered them brought down.”

But two of the Web-based ads, sponsored by the Israeli government as part of the a campaign to invoke nostalgia among Israeli expatriates, were still running on the absorption ministry’s YouTube channel on Friday afternoon.

The video ads went live in September as part of a broader campaign by Israel targeting Israelis abroad. The ads have appeared in Britain, France, Australia and other countries but created a firestorm this week after Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg wrote about them.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League - which combats anti-Semitism – was among the critics.

According to the Israeli immigrant absorption ministry, the ads were inspired by focus groups sponsored by the Jewish state that revealed that many Israelis in America miss home.

Critics said the videos went further, offering a none-too-subtle warning about Jewish life in America and sending the message that Israelis should return home if they want to ensure that their children remain Jewish.

“I’m disappointed in our government,” Seth Farber, an American-born Orthodox rabbi who is founder of the Israeli-based ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center, said of the ad campaign.

“It is one thing to touch a nerve. It’s another to be fatalistic,” Farber said. “Why send a message that you’re going to lose everything if you don’t come home, when there are so many beautiful and positive reasons for wanting to move to Israel?”

The Israeli’s government adopted a resolution in 2010 encouraging the return of Israelis abroad.

After conducting market research in cities like New York and Los Angeles about what Israelis miss while living abroad, the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption launched an $800,000 ad campaign timed to coincide with Rosh Hashanah and the other Jewish High Holidays, which began in September.

“The ads are not from our frantic minds but directly from the focus groups we conducted,” Elad Sonn, spokesman for the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, said Thursday.

Another ad on the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s website depicts an Israeli girl mourning on Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, while her American boyfriend remains ignorant to its significance.

The title at the top of another ad reads, “It's time to return to Israel before Abba becomes Daddy,” and it shows a little boy whose sleeping father won’t wake up until the boy calls him “Abba,” the Hebrew word for daddy.

“They will always be Israelis. Their children won't. Help them return to Israel,” says the narrator at the end of the ad with the boy. Both those ads were still on the ministry’s YouTube channel Friday afternoon.

In addition to the Web-based ads, the Israeli campaign included nine billboards in the U.S., with signs in Miami and Palo Alto, California, and ads in Hebrew-language newspapers in places with large concentrations of Israelis. The billboard ads were up a little more than a month, until early November.

But Farber says the ads are not representative of the experience of Israeli expats.

“I know many Israeli expats who feel very connected to Israel,” he said.

Some Israelis living in the United States echoed that view.

“Israelis know what they want, so by coming to the U.S., they aren't looking to change their values, traditions and religious beliefs, but they are looking for something different than what they have in their country,” said Neta Yoffe, a director of corporate communications for a media company in New York.

Yoffe, an Israeli with dual citizenship, has lived in the U.S. for 26 years and said the ads reflect negatively on Israelis living abroad.

“Israel is already viewed as an outsider by the world, and these ads just make things worse by representing Israel as arrogant and self-important,” she said.

The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has issued a statement apologizing to American Jews, and Sonn communicated a similar message.

“If anyone is offended, we’re sorry,” said Sonn, who openly acknowledged the emotional nature of the campaign. “We did not intend this to be directed at the American Jewish community. We respect it, and we work with it."

When asked about the implications of assimilation and intermarriage, Sonn continued, “It is none of our business who an Israeli should or could marry. It’s an insult to our intelligence to take it to that place.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel

soundoff (817 Responses)
  1. Trav

    So, let me get this straight. The government of a country that we(America) consider a very close ally, and go to extreme lengths to support, just put out ads saying that they don't even want their citizens in our country because their values are being "tainted?"

    With friends like these....

    December 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  2. Kregg

    But its ok to bash Christianity? Yeah, now thats equality

    December 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      if we criticize israeli actions we are called antisemite. A made up phrase by zionist to deflect criticism. Semites are arabs too. But hijacking words like semite, israel and judaism seem to be the norm for zionists.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Beth

      Aren't you going to own it? You post many posts here all with hatred and anger toward not only Israel but to Jews and anyone non-Christian. You are certainly anti-semitic. Why deny it? I send you my best wishes that you may find a way to become a happy person and let go of your tremendous negativity. I hope you do something good with your life. Posting like this on websites with only the goal to show your hate is very sad. I hope you reach higher in life.

      December 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Truth is always harsh

      Beth is a racist and religious bigot and a supremacist. Who could possibly measure up to a bigot's self-serving viewpoint anyway?

      December 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  3. Richard Moore

    "Blasthemy". One day soon, you all will see and proclaim that JESUS "is" Lord.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Michelle

      One day soon, you will look in a dictionary... I hope.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • goober

      To Richard Moore and all the other illeterates: the quotation symbol " " is not a way to emphasize things. To say Jesus "is" Lord is kind of like saying "crab" meat when you really mean Krab meat. Don't be unintentionally blasphemous.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • goober

      Michelle–you beat me to the puch.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  4. Andrea M

    Yup, that was a terrible idea for ads. As if they needed to reinforce the stereotype of self-importance among Jews and Israelis in particular. "Come back to Israel, lest your son marry some unfit Shiksa and become an immoral failure!" Way to fail kids, way to fail.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • j

      it is not illegal for a jew to marry a non jew, that is such nonsense.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  5. DB

    Well, I could understand the point of view of Israel's culture being lost in migration...hell, as African American, we lost allot of our culture too when we were enslaved and brought here. Now our children grow up appreciating the American culture, without understanding of where their ancestors came from and their culture...If anything, children's parents should be held responsible for not encouraging their children to learn more about their ancestry...we know more about the European history than our own...

    December 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Andrea M

      Uh, most "Israeli" culture is European Jewish. Most Israelis are of European descent. Throw some hummus and felafel on top and wham, "Israeli" culture. If they wanted to return to their roots so to speak, Europe would be the place to do it cause only a small number of Jews have deep roots in the Israel area. But apparently the draw of moving to a theocracy with a questionable human rights record instead of back to your actual homeland is a strong one.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Curious

    Where does hawaiiduude get all this stuff? I'm starting to think he might be antisemitic.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      Im anti zionist not anti semitic. Arabs are semite dontcha know.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • JR

      It is hawaiidue a.k.a muneef a.k.a iqbal khan

      December 2, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Curious

      Arabs are ok, then?

      December 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      Good christians are anti zionist while talmudic jews are anti jesus.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Curious

      Well, some Arabs are Christians. Not popular with their neighbors, though.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • JR

      hawaiidude plays dodge ball with straight forward questions.

      Lets cut to the chase hawaiidude- Are you a Muslim?

      December 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Godmatrix

      I guess those that don't have jobs or are bored at work write comments. Sure. I am bloody bored. Thanks for the comic relief. Btw, Yoko Ono is the true virgin Madonna and John Lennon is the holy spirit.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • sam

      It's just muneef again, being a jacka$$ and posting nonstop vids to make himself look knowledgeable.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  7. Kevininvancouver

    I think it would be great if all Jews moved back to Israel.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Loreeeeeeeeeeeeeee

      "back" to Israel? What makes you think they are all *from* Israel?

      December 2, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • San

      The Jews I know are from Brooklyn, fool

      December 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • ann

      It would be great if you left America, you racist.

      December 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  8. stephendouglas

    Courtesy of George Carlin...

    When it comes to bu11 sch1t, big-time, major league bu11 sch1t, you have to stand in awe of, the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion.

    Religion easily has the greatest bu11 sch1t story ever told. Think about it.

    Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

    But He loves you.

    He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money!

    He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!

    Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bu11 sch1t story. Holy sch1t! ......

    December 2, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Imogene

      1 point for quoting Carlin
      -5 points for bad spelling and making it hard to read.

      December 3, 2011 at 3:39 am |
  9. Carol

    There are so many positive reasons for wanting to move to Israel, someone said. Likewise there are so many positive reasons for remaining or moving to America, etc., I say. However the Orthodox Jewish people sound as though they are very worried about their religion, and anyone can understand that, too. It's real and it matters to them, just as being Christian matters to my family and to myself. This is something people who are different from each other have to work out between themselves, and public TV may not be the best place to do it.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  10. Muneef

    Truly I feel sorry for them Jews all through out recent history been pressurized to immigrate or support Israel existence financially and morally...and now in the end they are told if they do not remain in Israel they will be deprived of their nationality as Israelians and from the being of the Jewish race...!! Isn't that some how considered Terrorism??

    They want to bring them by all means to fill them into the land to enable the Israely Gvt confiscate more lands from Palestinians and unearthing more Olive trees for building more concrete jungles...!?

    December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Gannt

      Are you being sarcastic? It seems like you are.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Muneef

      No not really because the first groups of Jews who were moved to Israel by hook or crook were Yemenies who are now called Yemenites...and we know how they were tricked into it...! Beside that I know many Pelastinians and I know how much they are in love and connected with their home country lands and how much they long to go back to it by any means...! It is only this tragedy which has ever since turned our lives in the middle east upside down ever since...! So this is not a thing to be sarcastic about at all...!

      December 2, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  11. David

    Who thinks we should get rid of the BCS?

    December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  12. paganguy

    We will let your people go – home.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  13. charlie

    hawaiiduude, I suppose all your ancestors lived in Hawaii from time immemorial?

    December 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • JR

      Hawaiidude goes by another handle which is Muneef

      December 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Jer

    Yes, this story is very offensive...just give it a litmus test and reverse all the participants and the location and see for yourselves...suppose the grandparents were Christians living in the USA and the grandchild was visiting from Israel- she replied to the question that it is Hannuka, and the grandparents then said it was time she came back to live in the U.S. Now that would be offensive for sure. Apologies are definitely in order here.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • CommonSense

      I completely disagree, people have become too thin skinned, what makes this offensive? Christians do this all the time, dont participate in "Holiday" celebrations only Christmas. Let it go, it is all a waste of time.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Rod C. Venger

    Is there a version for Mexico and Mexicans? If people miss their homes, by all means they should go there. I have no problem with this ad. It's not intended to supplant Christmas with Hannukah in the US. It's a reminder to Israelis, and other jews, that Jews at home don't have to suffer through a foreign country's multiculturalism, that if they wish to, they can rejoin the Jewish state. I wish the illegals of all stripes felt that way.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Norman

      Return to a place as politically, ethnically and socially stratified as modern-day Israel? At least I can live with American multiculturalism.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  16. CL

    When asked about the implications of assimilation and intermarriage, Sivan continued, “It is none of our business who an Israeli should or could marry. It’s an insult to our intelligence to take it to that place.”

    It's an insult to *our* intelligence to suggest that the add itself doesn't go to that place. If a child is celebrating Christmas, there's a good chance one of the parents isn't Jewish. The ad clearly frowns upon this. It's the main point of the ad–fear of losing one's Jewishness. Or do you mean they can marry anyone they want, as long as their spouse converts? You're not fooling anyone. Yoffe (quoted in the article) is right–these ads (among other things) make Israel come across as arrogant and self-important. You don't want Israelis to aceot American's way of life, just their tax dollars. How convenient.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Actually, when I was a young teen in Los Angeles during the 60's and 70's, one family on the block...a very long block, nearly 2 miles, was Jewish. I went to school with their kids. They celebrated both Hannukah and Christmas, but they were most definitely Jewish first. These were very well educated people and virtually all of them at one time or another has played either the cello or violin for a philharmonic orchestra. I suspect that they put up lights, a tree and everything else because most everyone around them was Christian, even if they mostly socialized with family and other Jews in the Valley. That's what assimilation is about.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  17. midgick


    Another case of stupidity and ignorance. JEWS DO NOT BELIEVE IN HELL. NEVER HAVE, NEVER WILL. This is something
    you have been fed by your priest to keep you in locked in and to never question the truth.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • KillYourTelevision

      "We have no devil, Kirk. But we understand the habits of yours."

      December 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  18. Jim

    Here's the ad:


    December 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  19. cornhusker!!

    why should anybody be angry about this? I hope most countries consider themselves to be a place most people would be happy to live in. We don't have to agree but there's no need to get angry about it. It seems to be important to some. OKAY.

    December 2, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  20. midgick

    Being a forth generation Jew in America, I am very comfortable living amongst my Christian neighbors helping them celebrate their Holidays while absolutely never forgetting who I am, where I came from and how comfortable I am being Jewish and never never confusing all holidays.
    The Israeli people who made those ads were very insulting to all here in America. Their ignorance their lose.

    December 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Godmatrix

      Thank you.

      December 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.