A couple weeks ago, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior released a series of advertisements and billboards in American communities with large Israeli ex-pat populations. The ads touted taglines that included, “You will always be Israeli, but your children won’t.” Or “Before “aba” becomes Daddy, bring him back.” One ad portrays an American-Jewish man, with an Israeli woman coming home together. When they walk in to their apartment candles are lit but she seems sad and solemn. Her boyfriend/husband mistakenly thinks that she is setting the mood for a romantic night in, when in reality she is commemorating Israel’s memorial day. “They will always be Israeli, but their (foreign) partners won’t understand. Help to bring them back,” says the deep, voice over.
These ads attracted my attention because I think they highlight the pervading insecurity that threatens to become a permanent part of the nascent Israeli identity. We see in Israel how fear plus ideology can easily transform into fervent nationalism. And such nationalism is difficult to maintain away from its home country because nationalist ideologies require mass support, Thus if such ideology is required to be Israeli: you may only be Israeli in Israel, Only there, will people understand you.
Ironically, while living in Israel, because of my inability to buy
into such rhetoric, I felt less Israeli then I do while in the US now.
As jarring as these ads are, they did not arise from nothing. There are legitimate reasons that these commercials are being run, at least from the Ministry of the Interior’s point of view. Emigration from Israel continues to increase and those that leave are often more educated. The result is both the potential for serious brain drain, and a challenge for upholding any legitimate Jewish democracy.
So why not ask people why they are leaving? On one hand, like immigrants from other countries, Israelis leave for opportunities and for ways to make more money. But they also leave because they can’t live in a country that is isolated from its neighbors. They can’t live in a country that continues to invest so much in an occupation. And they can’t live in a place that they know their children will have to serve in an army that is always prepared for combat.
Many Israelis know that the current trend is not sustainable and some who can, do leave and others will continue to do so. My parents left 30 years ago for many of the reasons listed above. My uncle has made sure all three of his Israeli children have second citizenships. I left recently after a year and half, in part, because I felt like I could not support the direction in which the country was moving.
So, dear Israeli Ministry of the Interior, instead of convincing Israelis that they can’t be at home anywhere else, why not focus on creating a better home for them to stay in? But for that to happen, it’s time to abandon the status quo and the isolating ethno-nationalism, and embark on a newer and braver path. I, as an Israeli-American that values the Israeli part of me, would like to see some changes.