The Israeli government is running a television ad that compares Jews who marry non-Jews -- and the children of intermarriage -- to victims of kidnapping.
According to a translation from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the narrator says, "More than 50 percent of young Jews assimilate," a statistic that refers to the rate of intermarriage. "We are losing them," she continues. The ad then asks Israelis who know a young Jew living abroad to tell them to apply to MASA, a study-in-Israel program. The narrator concludes, "Together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don't lose them."
It's difficult for me to wrap my mind around this ad. It tells us that people who intermarry or who are the products of intermarriage have been "lost" -- yet it holds out the hope of them being found again, if they reconnect to Israel. But who would want to be "found" by a community that so denigrates one's origins? People who happen to have been born half-Jewish shouldn't be made to feel like they are the products of some original sin from which they must be redeemed. (This is Judaism, after all; we don't believe in that kind of thing!) Half-Jews are still whole and complete individuals, with their own legitimate understandings of ethnicity and religion.
I don't know how this offensive ad will play in Israel, but to the extent that American Jews hear about it, I think it's disastrous for Israel's continued efforts to win the allegiance of secular Diaspora Jews. You don't earn loyalty by telling a person that his own marriage or his parents' marriage is illegitimate, or that he is the product of unseemly "mixing." For American Jews, in particular, it's difficult to watch the ad and not think about the United States' shameful history of anti-miscegenation laws. It's not surprising, however, that an ideology of racial/ethnic superiority would be promoted by an Israeli administration intent on occupying its neighbors and denying full civil rights to Arab Israeli citizens. And remember when Prime Minister Benjmain Natanyahu reportedly slanderedDavid Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel as "self-hating Jews," simply because they support President Obama's aggressive two-state agenda? Under Netanyahu, the Israeli government seems to be offering up an ever-constricting definition of what it means to be an acceptable Diaspora Jew.
On a more personal note, this policing of personal lives -- the guilt attached to the circumstance of loving someone who is not Jewish -- has always been one of the elements that pushed me away from organized Judaism, after being raised in a conservative shul. This ad is an embarrassing misstep, and sure to alienate many of the Jews it is intended to reach.