Israel uses Nickelodeon star to push wartime birthright trips

@jamesmaslow/Instagram Hamara/ShutterStock (Licensed)

Israel enlists Nickelodeon star for Instagram ads pushing Birthright trips during Gaza invasion

It's garnering a lot of backlash.

 

Tricia Crimmins

Tech

Posted on Mar 8, 2024   Updated on Mar 8, 2024, 8:36 am CST

As Israel faces mounting international backlash over its invasion of Gaza, it’s trying to revive interest in one of its signature initiatives—and turning to a former Nickelodeon star for help.

James Maslow, who had a leading role in Big Time Rush, is starring in ads on Instagram for Birthright Israel. 

The organization, powered by donations and the Israeli government, provides free trips to Israel for members of the Jewish diaspora. Maslow’s ad is the latest development in Birthright’s push to encourage Jews to visit Israel during wartime.

The ad, which was posted this week, shows Maslow standing in front of a green screen background with videos of Israel. 

He recounts his Birthright experience and other trips to Israel, talking about how Tel Aviv is one of his favorite cities in the world.

The ads try to persuade a younger generation: Jewish young adults are eligible for Birthright between the ages of 18-26, and participants are taught the importance of marrying within the Jewish faith. The ads come as many young Jewish people are protesting in support of Palestine.

Maslow makes sense as a spokesperson. He posts frequently about the Israeli-Hamas war, including sharing a satirical video about Hamas as well as clips about the Oct. 7 attack and hostages still in Gaza.

“It truly made me fall in love with this little strip of land in the Mediterranean,” Maslow said of Birthright. “It’s important for young Jewish adults to know what Israel is really about. And I think it’s important for the world.”

Many comments on Maslow’s Instagram post call the ad “tone deaf,” as Israel is in the midst of a massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israel in which almost 1,200 Israeli civilians died, over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks.

“This is not a good look, James,” a commenter wrote.

“To promote a trip to Israel while people are being slaughtered in Gaza is so disrespectful,” another person said. “Especially after all the abuse they’ve put Palestinian people through.”

Birthright Israel’s account commented, too.

“Israel misses you!”it wrote.

In Body Image

This isn’t the first time Maslow received backlash for his social media posts about Israel.

Maslow visited Israel in November and stayed in an Israeli settlement near Gaza to “[see] with [his] own eyes what happened.” Many lambasted him for wearing a press vest, similar to that of many journalists who have been killed in the conflict. 

Maslow’s ad is part of Birthright’s campaign to advertise wartime trips to Israel. In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, Birthright was “one of the first organizations to bring volunteers to Israel” via its Onward Israel program that invites Birthright attendees to return to the country.

The organization’s trips after Oct. 7 were put on hiatus, but they resumed in December and early January.

As of last week, over 500 Jewish adults have traveled to Israel through wartime Birthright trips. Before the pandemic, approximately 48,000 Jewish people participated in Birthright per year. In 2022, 35,000 participated.

According to LinkedIn posts from Birthright and the volunteers themselves, volunteers perform agricultural labor, harvest crops, build homes for displaced Israelis, and pack boxes to fill with supplies for “people in need.”

“Urgent opportunity to volunteer in Israel,” a November ad for Birthright from a United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) employee said. “Israel is facing a shortage of agricultural labour as many who would usually carry out the work have been called up for military service or have left the country as a result of the war.”

Much of Brightright’s media about the trip since Oct. 7 stressed the importance of “connecting to the homeland” and “feeling more connected to your Jewish identity than ever.” 

Birthright also said it offers Jewish people the chance to “go beyond the headlines and experience Israel through a fresh set of eyes.”

“Security is priority,” a February Birthright LinkedIn post about ensuring participants’ safety said. “Travel safe with us.”

And at the end of Birthright wartime trips, participants receive a “Certificate of Appreciation” for “traveling to Israel at this time of war, embodying the spirit of compassion and solidarity.” 

“Thank you to the amazing people who have been volunteering with Birthright Israel through a Birthright Israel Onward Israel program these past few weeks,” a Birthright LinkedIn post from November said. “These certificates don’t even begin to express the gratitude and magnitude of what you have done for Israel.”

Since posting his Israel ad, Maslow has resumed posting about Big Time Rush—which is now a boy band separate from Nickelodeon—and shared a video of the group going on a shopping spree. But some commenters have continued to criticize him on that post, too.

“All that money could’ve gone towards relief,” a commenter wrote, “in Palestine and Gaza.”

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*First Published: Mar 8, 2024, 8:35 am CST