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. b4bigbang

    Ungodly Discipline

    Seems to me God didn't make anything.

    A famous scientific atheist came out publicly in favor of intelligent design b4 he died. Read some of his reasons....

    December 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Cuervo Jones

      Einstien was an atheist until he heard a 9 year old play violin at a children's recital.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • ZZeyn

      Maybe he meant intelligent design as in our genes having been advanced by aliens?

      December 2, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline


      So, he is a moron. What is your point?

      December 2, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Stormcrow

      Many people suffer from dementia in their old age. That's not proof of a god.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  2. restupulous

    Religion should always unite, not divide or separate people from one another. Otherwise you have failed God however you chose to worship him..

    December 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  3. Peikovianii

    Fine example of how Jews are divided along religious and ethnic lines. Anyone who thinks they are all in agreement is paranoid. BTW Irving Berlin is responsible for a lot of America's best-known music for patriotic and Christian holidays.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Devon

      God Bless America, my friend.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  4. it is sad

    Sorry, but are they looking for more people to occupy Isreal while they try taking over Palestine?

    December 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • shane

      Palestine... LOL. You mean misplaced Jordanians? Islamists always trying to cause trouble.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • DaveinCincy

      Maybe if the Palestinians would haul those Hammas terrorists to the middle of the town square and shoot them all then things would be different.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • rick

      Check your facts. There is no Palestine and never in the history of the world has there been,

      December 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  5. allison

    first, I would like to say that I'm an American before anything else. Then comes being a woman, and then being Jewish. The problem with Israel is that there is little difference between politics and religion...every one of their political problems (from which I've read and have a based a conclusion on, on my own...which is my opinion in its entirety & not necessarily a proven fact) has steamed from religion and frankly, because no one wants Israel in the middle east (Now, that is fact). Honestly, these ads that the Israeli government endorsed and the Prime Minister said he knew nothing about it (I kind of doubt that) is pure propaganda and they should be ashamed of themselves. From what I see, that situation of Israel will always be in controversy until its eventual demise, like the rest of us. I am not against Israel as a nation, or any nation to that...Just stating that all things, good or bad, come to an end.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  6. JohnRJ08

    This is starting to look like Israel vs the World. I know that Jews don't care for Muslims. But going after Christians now seems very stupid. It is the Christians in this country who support Israel the most.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Much in the way my underwear support my balls.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Lee

      Yes, American "Christianists" (those that follow Republican Jesus, not the one the crazy euros used to worship), support Israel as a vehicle to get us to the end times, Armageddon, and the "Rapture" to happen FASTER! It's the unconverted Jews job in Israel to be consumed in the conflagration that American Christianists hope to bring about.

      With "friends" like that, who needs enemies!

      December 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • wowurdumb

      Poor LEE, the misguided bas tard..

      December 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Stormcrow

      I had a relative who was an extreme Christian and even more extreme Republican. After he read the "Left Behind" series it warped him even more. He could barely accept the fact that the books were pure fiction. Such is the way of religion.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  7. East Bay Ed

    It must be hard to be the chosen people.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      You said "hard".

      December 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  8. Regis990

    I guess "Hey, we get $2 Billion a year, no questions asked, from the USA." wasn't a catchy enough slogan.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  9. Bboy705

    Just drink the darn Kool Aid and get it over with!

    December 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  10. PiedType

    American Jews are quite capable of deciding for themselves where they want to live, how they want to worship, and how they want to raise their kids. These ads are precisely the sort of arrogant heavy-handedness I've come to expect from Israel. No wonder America's Jews are here, not there.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  11. Starrface

    What a crock of s___!

    December 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Imogene

      Yeah! What a bunch of s___!

      December 3, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  12. longtooth

    Here's a crazy idea. What if there was a God, and all He wanted was for us to get along and enjoy the gift of life on this wonderful place we call earth? I know. Crazy.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • cscann

      AGREED... I dont care what religion you are... Just wish me a happy something!

      December 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Have a happy....ending?

      December 2, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Stormcrow

      Here's a crazy idea, why don't we examine each religion in the light of human knowledge and reason and science and criminalize the ones that are found to be obviously made up? Then we can all live together using common sense instead of stupidity and ignorance?

      December 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Hingy

      Stormcrow that will never happen. What about religious freedom?

      December 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  13. Bribarian

    surprised they pulled it, most jews aren't subtle about their contempt and hatred for christmas

    December 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Loreeeeeeeeeeeeeee

      Funny, I am putting my lights up on the house tomorrow.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • blah

      ...and most people aren't subtle with their overwhelming stereotypes.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  14. Cohen

    Pulling the ad does not mean those who criticize it don't agree with it. They just wanted to see how far they can get by without any criticism, since anyone who does not agree is labeled anti-Semite. Eventually, they will blame Christmas and Christians for this.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      I blame Christmas and Christians.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  15. Heyzeus

    Ok, I read a lot of comments here....I believe the root of the problem is you all believe in a crazy powerful supernatural being.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Mike

      Amen. So to speak...

      December 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Stormcrow

      That root has other roots.

      December 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Imogene

      We're rooting for you!

      December 3, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  16. bigfoot

    It is time to leave Israel before right wing Israelis turn your country into a radiant glass factory.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  17. corntrader19

    I can see what the Jews were trying to convey in the message but it came out wrong. One of the reason people can't celebrate Christmas without being verbally attacked is not just because of complaints from Jews but complaints from every hateful, mean, miserable person that can't stand their life and wants to make life miserable for everyone around them. People that are happy with their lives don't go around trying to make sure their kids don't come in contact with Christmas.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Stormcrow

      You are wrong. Just because someone doesn't agree with your idiotic insanity doesn't mean they hate their lives and want to make you miserable. This isn't about you. The universe does not revolve around you or your religion. Quit whining.

      December 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  18. us1776

    Religion. The ultimate crime against humanity.


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

      It is not religion but the "religious".

      December 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Regis990


      December 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • ZZeyn

      I wish more people were interested in researching the ancient astronaut theory… As we discover more about the clues left behind for us such as the megalithic structures, ancient carvings depicting unidentified objects across continents, combined with what the holy books tell us, it almost seems impossible to disregard the possibility of religions of the earth having been the result of our contact with non-human intelligences. That means some of the stories are misunderstood technologies, which make some of the stories to be true. This would also unite us – instead of dividing us.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • cscann


      December 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • getalife

      Yea ok there bigfoot, and its not to bend thee, but get bent....

      December 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  19. "He's Dead Jim."

    Maybe everyone on earth should be determined to deliberately lose their original faith or political views as a sign of their ability to think independently of mankind's constant desire to control others.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  20. Joe Christianson

    They are right.. lets be honest. America is ALL about being absorbed and giving up your values.

    December 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • surferal

      because your "values" are contempt for anybody different

      December 2, 2011 at 8:26 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.