Anti-Assimilation Campaign Under Fire

A unique anti-assimilation campaign launched by the Jewish Agency on Israeli television drew such a barrage of protests that it was finally yanked.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 15:00

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky
Israel news photo: Flash 90

A unique anti-assimilation project launched by the Jewish Agency for Israel on local television has drawn such a barrage of protest from Jews and self-proclaimed Jews from outside the country that the agency's chairman, Natan Sharansky, decided finally to yank the ad and halt the public relations campaign.

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In the first few days of the campaign, only a few bits of the video clip were presented, with pictures and names entitled "lost." A few days later, the second part of the clip was added, stating that "more than 50 percent of young Jews living in the Diaspora are assimilating, are getting lost."

The ad called on viewers to reach out to the Jewish Agency regarding Jews living in the Diaspora. Representatives of the agency's MASA project would then contact the young Jews and invite them to join educational Zionist activities. 

However, last Saturday night Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky issued a directive to stop the MASA-Israel Journey campaign. Instead, he recommended it focus on the goals of MASA rather than a fight against assimilation. The new guidelines went into effect on Tuesday, according to a statement released to the media Thursday morning.

"There is no doubt that strengthening the bond between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel assists in fighting assimilation and that MASA-Israel Journey Project  is a valuable and important tool in achieving this goal," said Sharansky.

He noted, however, that the agency had no choice but to backpedal. "We must always be mindful of the sensitivities of Diaspora Jewry and must find a common language between them and the Jews in the State of Israel. The PR campaign should bring the Jews of the Diaspora closer and not alienate them," he said. The agency's MASA-Israel Journey program brings thousands of young Jews from the Diaspora to study and volunteer in Israel.

"The reality is that a major proportion of self-identified Jews under 25 today have only one Jewish parent," an article in the liberal New York Jewish Forward stated. “Huge numbers of these children -- we used to call them half-Jews -- grow up to become active, identifying Jews. "If the MASA folks are looking for young Jews who could use some outreach, these are the ones they’re after. And nobody is going to win their hearts with commercials implying that their parents’ marriage was a form of genocide."

The Jewish Telegraph Agency, which is partially funded by the Jewish Agency and generally is favorable to pluralism, noted that “a wave of philanthropists, prominent Jewish journalists and bloggers criticized the ad, saying it represented an outdated view on intermarriage and assimilation.”

Tens of thousands of Jews in the United States do not accept traditional Jewish law as a basis for determining who is a Jew, and many of those who call themselves actually are not a part of the faith, according to "halacha" (Jewish law).