The prime minister's decision to scrap the campaign for bringing back expatriate Israelis was in accordance with best Israeli practice: too little, too late. Too late, because the campaign had already been launched in Israel and in the US; and too little, because the real problem does not end with a specific decision. The affair exposes a fundamental failure in the decision making process in Israel.
Sometime in May 2010, the government decided to encourage expatriates to come home, putting special emphasis on the US, where more than half a million Israelis live. The idea is right. Every year, according to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's statistics, about 20,000 people leave Israel, and immigrants arrive in similar numbers. The immigrant absorption minister, called upon to explain the prime minister's decision, declared that the campaign had been a great success. But it turns out that the campaign for which she was responsible is characterized by three failures: professional; organizational; and cultural.
The professional failure is over the question whether the producers of the campaign studied the general, Jewish, and Israeli communities in the US closely, and understood the various nuances of each. Conducting a focus group among the expatriate Israelis, as we are told was done, does not provide a full and proper answer. Unless it is understood that the expatriates in the US are enclosed in two further social rings, of the Jewish and the general community, it is not possible to penetrate to the expatriate group. Furthermore, it should have been realized that any campaign of this kind also reaches the general community. There is no way of separating the two, and the nature of information is that it spreads easily and rapidly on the networks. And so it happened.
Arrogance and ignorance
The second failure lies in lack of familiarity with American-Jewish culture. Israelis, in their opinionated way, claim to know the community. However, during the years I spent as a senior manager in the United Jewish Communities (The Jewish Federations of North America), I was at the sensitive interface between the world's two largest Jewish populations. I learned that the attitude of Israelis to American Jews is a mix of arrogance and ignorance. Arrogance, because the Israelis think that now that they have founded a state and it has an army and security and has glorious achievements to its name, they are superior to their American brothers and sisters. Ignorance, because among the Israeli public there is no real knowledge, or experience, whereby it is possible to understand the community in North America, its complexity, its values, and its place in non-Jewish society.
The broadcasts hit on the subject of assimilation. More than 50% of marriages in the US are mixed. The community tries to include these couples, so as not to lose them, particularly the young generation. This is a complicated and courageous path to take. Not only does Israel reject Reform conversions carried out in the US, it suggests in the broadcasts that Israelis had better come back before assimilation overtakes them. What does that say to the thousands of assimilated couples in the US?
The broadcasts also imply that young Americans and young Israelis have nothing in common, and that they cannot unite around something like Israel's Memorial Day.
We tend to take the support of US Jewry for granted, particularly political and financial aid, and ignore their struggle to remain Jewish and preserve their double affinity, as citizens of the US and supporters of Israel. When any of them tries so express a view on Israel's policies, on legislation in Israel, on attitudes to civil society organizations, on the status of Arabs or of women, subjects on which they have views, and legitimate views, we dismiss them on the grounds that, so long as they do not live among us, they have no right to express an opinion.
The last failure is organizational, and relates to the question, who's running the show? The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption carries out a campaign in the US, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for relations with the Jewish community, is not informed. What is more, Netanyahu decided to form a Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. I won't go into the question of relations between this ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but clearly, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, which also deals with the Jewish world, was not in the picture. Diaspora diplomacy is a world of its own, one of the most important building blocks of foreign policy. Who took it into consideration, and who is responsible for it? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs? The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs? The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption?
The protest from the US Jewish community came forcefully and fast. In isolation, communities and organizations found ways of distancing themselves from a campaign that caused them great discomfort. It can only be hoped that the damage that has been done is not too great, but that is something we will find out when we need their help, which will probably be soon.
The writer holds a PhD in communications and political science, and is a member of Knesset for the Kadima party.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 5, 2011
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