Shas vs. shiksa?

Ultra-Orthodox party’s ad aims to spark fear of eased conversion to Judaism

A Russian bride receives a 'insta-conversion' to Judaism certificate in a new televised advertisement for the Shas party (photo credit: image capture/Youtube)
A Russian bride receives a 'insta-conversion' to Judaism certificate in a new televised advertisement for the Shas party (photo credit: image capture/Youtube)

Israel’s election campaign entered its home stretch on Tuesday with the beginning of a quirky two-week period of televised political advertisements.

One ad from the ultra-Orthodox, Sephardic party Shas stood out for its edgy lampooning of hot-button issues relating to the recognition of conversions to Judaism in Israel; demographic concerns; and, of course, the age-old fear of the shiksa (a derogatory Yiddish moniker for a non-Jewish woman, often one who is on the prowl for a Jewish husband).

The Shas ad features a confused, kippa-wearing groom who, at his wedding, realizes that his blond, Russian-speaking wife-to-be — her accent is grotesquely exaggerated — isn’t Jewish, only to have her conversion to Judaism approved by a Yisrael Beytenu-sponsored dial-in service at the last minute.

The ad plays as a faux-advertisement for a “quick conversion service,” with the following dialogue:

Groom: “Marina, what is the fax for?”
Bride:Beytenu sent it, a wedding present.”
Groom: “How nice of him. But what the hell — a fax?”
Bride: “To receive permission.”
Groom: “Permission for what?”
Bride: “From 1-800-convert”
Groom: “1-800-convert??”
Bride:Da, you call 1-800-convert and receive permission.”
Groom: “Wait, you are’t Jewish?”
Bride (brandishing a freshly issued “certificate of conversion”): “I am now!”

Yisrael Beytenu, a party whose voters largely hail from Israel’s sizable Russian-speaking community and which is running on a joint list with Benjamin Netanyahu‘s ruling Likud party, 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 the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism, and Shas could be playing on demographic fears and xenophobia in an attempt to draw traditional-minded voters.

After the ad was aired, member of Knesset Nino Abesadze of the Labor Party asked the Central Elections Committee to take it off the air. The ad is “racist” and “ridicules the immigrant population,” she said.

Derided by many as archaic and irrelevant, the state-subsidized blocs of ads are a legendary staple of Israeli election campaigns, providing a rare platform for candidates from the more than 30 parties contesting the election to take their messages to the masses. With a firm lead in opinion polls, Netanyahu has rejected calls to debate his opponents.

Under Israeli election law, TV stations must set aside time each evening for two weeks to air the advertisements free of charge. The election is set for Jan. 22.

AP contributed to this report.

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