Following up on its 2009 campaign comparing diaspora intermarriers to kidnapping victims, the Netanyahu government is now running PSAs warning Israelis living abroad against the dangers of marrying American Jews. In this ad, the American Jewish family Skypes with grandparents in Israeli, who are sitting in front of a Chanukah menorah. When grandma asks the little girl what holiday it is, she shouts, “Christmas!”, prompting garment-rending.
I don’t always agree with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, but he gets this exactly right:
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”?
These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the “Christmas” ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren’t in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs.…
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 (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.
I’ll only add that in addition to being offensive toward American Jews, the ad betrays real ignorance about the conditions of American life. Not only are the vast majority of American Jewish children completely familiar with Chanukah, but the typical American school teaches all children about the holiday traditions of various faiths, from Christmas to Chanukah to Kwanzaa to Ramadan. Indeed, this is one of the real strengths and hallmarks of American public education, and something I reflected on a lot when I visited Finnish schools in December 2008, and saw classrooms full of Muslim immigrant kids learning Christmas songs, with no mention at all of other religious traditions.
This PSA is another sad reminder of the increasing cultural chasm between generally conservative Israeli Jews and generally progressive American Jews. A savvy Israel would be attempting to bridge this gap, not exacerbate it—but that would defy the increasingly ardent and aggressive religious-nationalism of the Netanyahu government.