Provocative poster offends London Jews

Ham&High/August 2, 2003
By Matt Eley

A controversial poster that urges Jews to 'think for themselves' is to be removed from an advertising board in Golders Green following complaints from the community.

The poster, which was put up by Camden Town-based evangelical group Jews for Jesus, had been criticised as "divisive" and "offensive" by community leaders.

The advert, on the corner of Finchley Road and Cricklewood Lane, is one of several displayed in north west London. It shows six Jewish men in traditional dress walking past the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The most prominent man is wearing a red "Jews for Jesus" T-shirt.

Advertising agency Maiden, which has received scores of complaints over the poster, agreed to remove it earlier this week. According to its mission statement, Jews for Jesus "aims to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue for Jewish people worldwide."

But Melvin Cohen, Conservative Councillor for Golders Green, described the display as "a red rag to a bull". He told the Ham&High: "I think it is unacceptable and I think most right-minded people would think it is inappropriate.

"Firstly, I understand it is a breach of the advertising standards guidance on the use of religion on advertisements.

"Secondly, it is right in the middle of the north London Jewish community which I think is a little provocative."

Fellow Tory Councillor for Golders Green Aba Dunner added: "Personally I find it offensive and I find the name Jews for Jesus itself offensive because it targets the Jewish community and we have always said any missionary work should be directed at non-believers."

Brian Coleman, Conservative London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, criticised the poster for being "profoundly unhelpful" to inter-faith relations.

He said: "This advert is extremely ill-advised, and does nothing to promote better relations between faith communities. "It is clear that it breaches the Advertising Standards Agency's specific guidance on using religion in advertising, and for it to be placed in the heart of north London's Jewish community is unnecessarily provocative." Joseph Steinberg, UK director of Jews for Jesus, told the Ham&High the poster had only been booked for two weeks and was due to be removed yesterday anyway.

He said: "It was done in good humour and was designed to make people smile if not laugh. If people have been offended they have chosen to take offence when none was intended.

He added: "Everybody in the picture is Jewish. It was meant to be humorous and I know people who find it funny." The poster formed part of the organisation's biggest ever missionary drive in the capital, which included the distribution of 400,000 leaflets.

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