Last month, a set of advertisements aimed at encouraging the return of Israelis living abroad, were removed from the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s YouTube channel. As a part of a resolution adopted by the government in 2010, these advertisements feature images like the young girl who disappoints her Israeli grandarents when she reveals her excitement for Christmas instead of Hannukah.
Israeli expatriates living in Britain, France, Australia, and other countries felt targeted by the video campaign that was launched in September. Criticism from Jews around the world provoked the withdrawal of these advertisements, while Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., asserts that the prime minister’s office was unaware of the ads before they surfaced on the web.
Advertisement titles such as, “It’s time to return to Israel before Abba becomes Daddy,” demonstrate subtle messages concerning the notion that to some, raising Jewish/Israeli children in America is less desirable than raising them in Israel.
Are the children of diaspora Jews assumed to be at higher risk of relinquishing their Jewish identities? If that is the case, do the costs of endangering one’s sense of Jewishness by emigrating outweigh the benefits of moving to a country to pursue personal opportunity?
The nostalgia-invoking nature of these advertisements touches on a bigger issue than prompting Israelis who have left Israel to return home.
These Israeli ads recognize that even within a minority there is division. There is a distinction between Israeli Jews and Jews living in the diaspora. Israeli and American Jewish children are exposed to different arrays of challenges, experiences, and situations that may shape them into unique followers of the Jewish tradition.
But these differences should not necessarily insinuate that Jewish life in the diaspora is inferior. Diaspora Jews are often belittled for their lack of understanding of the struggles that are unique to living an Israeli life.
Does this then disqualify the Jewishness of diaspora Jews? Are diaspora Jews any less Jewish than those Jews living in Israel?
Israel is meant to be the homeland for all Jews — not just those Jews who embrace Israeli nationalism by living in or supporting the state of Israel. This is also evinced by the ubiquity of Israelis, who live in Israel, who vocally repudiate the policies of their elected government.
Judaism and Jewishness are unique and beautiful in that they can manifest themselves in an immeasurable number of ways. Jews can be Jews because they identify themselves as culturally Jewish, or religiously Jewish, or Jewish for the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat, or Jewish by history and ancestry.
Jews will continue to debate about the definition of Jewishness, each deriving authority from his/her own preferred theories of identity. The criteria of this particular office of the Israeli government, which subordinate Jews who don’t happen to have a mailing address in Israel, is only one way of looking at Jewishness.