Israeli Government Ads Warn Against Marrying Non-Jews
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The Israeli government has launched a television and Internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews.
The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as "scare tactics," are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young Diaspora Jews by encouraging their move to Israel.
The campaign, which cost $800,000, was created in response to reports that half of all Jews outside Israel marry non-Jews. It is just one of several initiatives by the Israeli state and private organizations to try to increase the size of Israel's Jewish population.
According to one ad, voiced over by one of the country's leading news anchors, assimilation is "a strategic national threat," warning: "More than 50 percent of Diaspora youth assimilate and are lost to us."
Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, said this was a reference both to a general fear in Israel that the Jewish people may one day disappear through assimilation and to a more specific concern that, if it is to survive, Israel must recruit more Jews to its "demographic war" against Palestinians.
The issue of assimilation has been thrust into the limelight by a series of surveys over several years carried out by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a think tank established in Jerusalem in 2002 comprising leading Israeli and Diaspora officials.
The institute's research has shown that Israel is the only country in the world with a significant Jewish population not decreasing in size. The decline elsewhere is ascribed both to low birth rates and to widespread intermarriage.
According to the institute, about half of all Jews in Western Europe and the United States assimilate by intermarrying, while the figure for the former Soviet Jewry is reported to reach 80 percent.
Israel, whose Jewish population of 5.6 million accounts for 41 percent of worldwide Jewry, has obstructed intermarriage between its Jewish and Arab citizens by refusing to recognize such marriages unless they are performed abroad.
The advertising campaign is directed particularly at Jews in the United States and Canada, whose combined 5.7 million Jews constitute the world's largest Jewish population. Most belong to the liberal Reform stream of Judaism that, unlike Orthodoxy, does not oppose intermarriage.
One-third of Jews in the Diaspora are believed to have relatives in Israel.
According to the campaign's organizers, more than 200 Israelis rang a hot line to report names of Jews living abroad after the first TV advertisement was run on Wednesday. Callers left details of e-mail addresses and Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The 30-second clip featured a series of missing-persons posters on street corners, in subways and on telephone boxes showing images of Jewish youths above the word "Lost" in different languages. A voiceover asks anyone who "knows a young Jew living abroad" to call the hot line: "Together, we will strengthen their connection to Israel, so that we don't lose them."
The campaign supports a government-backed program, Masa, that subsidizes stays and courses in Israel of up to one year in a bid to persuade Jews to immigrate and become citizens. About 8,000 Diaspora Jews attend its program each year.
The government has been trying to develop Masa alongside a rival program, Birthright Israel, which brings nearly 20,000 Diaspora youngsters to Israel each year on sponsored 10-day trips to meet Israeli soldiers and visit sites in Israel and the West Bank that are promoted as important to the Jewish people.
Although Birthright is regarded as useful in encouraging a positive image of Israel, officials fear it has only a limited effect on attracting its mainly North American participants to move to Israel. Many regard it as an all-paid holiday.