Shas to shelve racially loaded ad about conversion to Judaism

Meanwhile, politicians from far-right Otzma Leyisrael petition High Court for permission to resume campaign banned as racist

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A screen capture from a Shas party campaign ad that featured a stereotypical depiction of a Russian woman
A screen capture from a Shas party campaign ad that featured a stereotypical depiction of a Russian woman

Shas has decided to take off the air a controversial campaign ad, and will broadcast it Wednesday night for the last time, the ultra-Orthodox party announced.

The ad, which plays as a faux advertisement for a “quick conversion service,” features a confused, kippa-wearing groom standing under a huppah — a Jewish wedding canopy — with a tall platinum-blonde girl who speaks in a grotesque Russian accent.

At one point he realizes that she isn’t Jewish, only to have her conversion to Judaism approved by a purported Yisrael Beytenu party-sponsored dial-in service at the last minute.

Many of Yisrael Beytenu’s supporters hail from Israel’s sizable Russian-speaking community. The party, which is running on a joint list with Benjamin Netanyahu‘s ruling Likud, has declared that it will fight to ease the process of converting to Judaism in Israel.

A sizable percentage of Russian-speaking Israelis are not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish religious law).

The ad drew an onslaught of criticism on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, Shas agreed to shelve the ad, acting on the recommendation of Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, the chairman of Israel’s Central Elections Committee.

“I believe that the ad may evoke a feeling of general insult, which should be avoided as much as possible,” Rubinstein said.

Meanwhile, the ultra-right Otzma Leyisrael (Power to Israel) party petitioned the High Court and requested that it repeal Rubinstein’s decision to ban a number of its campaign ads.

Rubinstein put the kibosh on certain phrases in the ads that allude to stereotypes about Israeli Arabs, including “in Sakhnin, not everyone pays property tax,” “in Taybe and the Negev they are building illegal villas,” and “in East Jerusalem they disrespect the law.”

Party representatives claim the phrases have no racist undertones and that Rubinstein is deliberately discriminating against them.

Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.

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