WASHINGTON – Before saying anything else about Jeffrey Goldberg
you should know that he enlisted in the IDF
during the first Intifada and served in the Military Police. He lived on Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek for two years and spent another three years in Jerusalem. He speaks Hebrew like a native and understands life in Israel
as only a local could.
Which is why it is interesting to understand why Goldberg, one of the most respected columnists in the US on all things Middle East, decided to do battle against a campaign
led by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
campaign, encouraging Israelis who have left Israel to come back home so that their children will not lose contact with the Jewish State was one that American Jews found to be extremely offensive.
Don't remember how to say 'Aba'?
A column he wrote for his blog on The Atlantic's website caused the wheels of Israeli diplomacy to turn swiftly until finally, Israel announced that it would be terminating
the controversial campaign.
Three videos produced by the Ministry depict "normal" scenarios from the daily lives of Israelis abroad, and urge them to "return home" before becoming "fully assimilated." One video suggests that Israelis should not marry non-Israeli partners, because they will never understand Israeli holidays such as the Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day.
A different ad shows a child trying to wake up his napping father by repeatedly calling out "daddy." However, the father only responds when the child finally calls him "aba" (Hebrew for "father").
"The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew," said Goldberg, who made aliyah and then left Israel five years later, so one might say that he knows both sides of the story.
An image from the ministry's campaign
Goldberg noted that there are many Zionists in Israel and outside of it who think that Israel is the only place where Jews can prosper and flourish, no news there, but he adds that when he saw the ministry's ad campaign he found himself thinking Jews are afraid of Christmas – and laughed. He also noted the connection between the Israeli right and the Evangelist Christians in the US.
Goldberg said that while understands the impulse behind the ads: "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 US''? Or, 'It's always sunny in Israel?' Or, 'Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you?'"
Goldberg believes that American Jews are trying to understand Israeli far more than Israelis try to understand them. He states that the average American Jew reads that women in Jerusalem sit on the back of the bus and thinks to himself that he has no connection whatsoever with this country.
He adds that young Israelis from Tel Aviv probably feel the same when they read that the right wing is making alliances with Evangelical Christians.
Goldberg notes that it is obvious that there is a rift, when 80% of American Jews are culturally politically and religion-wise like 25% of Israelis, Jews in Washington can identify with what's happening in Tel Aviv but not Jerusalem or the settlements.
He adds that there is a large gap between most Jews in the US and most Jews in Israel; Jews in the US are becoming more universal in their outlook while Israeli Jews are becoming more and more tribal in theirs. If the trend continues, he says, American Jews will see Israel as a far off foreign country.
Goldberg also warned of the growing gulf between American Jews and their Israeli counterparts over issues related to democratic values. He said that the things happening in Israel today are like a mystery to the American Jews who scratch their heads and ask themselves what in the world is going on in Israel.
Goldberg also spoke of the recent right-wing legislation, the exclusion of women from the public domain and the harm to freedom of expression. He noted that as American Jews, they were taught that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that sadly, the recent legislation causes concerns – should Israel lose its democratic values, it will lose American Jewry.