Bad Reception

Jewish Times/September 17, 2004
By Marcia Hillary Kay

Radio listeners in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area may have been surprised over the past few weeks when hearing advertisements sponsored by Jews for Jesus seeking Jewish converts to their organization, which contends that Jews should recognize Jesus as the messiah.

One of the ads featured what sounded like two older Jewish men with Yiddish accents, talking about the merits of the organization with "Hava Negilla" playing in the background.

Seven different D.C. area stations ran the advertisements. Michael Hughes, general manager for stations WJFK-FM and WARW-FM, said his stations ran the original ads and "we didn't receive many complaints. ... The ads met the standards for broadcast."

WTOP, an all-news station in the Washington area, received enough complaints that they "went back to Jews for Jesus" and asked them to modify the spots to "straight-reads," said Joel Oxley, general manager of WTOP, WGMS and Z104.

Mr. Oxley said the complaints said the advertisements were "stereotypical." Other complaints, Mr. Oxley said, said the ads were "an attack on the Jewish religion."

After examining the complaints, Mr. Oxley said the ads "were unacceptable" and did not meet the standards established by the station. But Mr. Oxley noted, "We take ads from all types" of organizations.

The campaign is part of Jews for Jesus' "Behold Your God," an "in-your-face campaign," according to Scott Hillman, director of the Baltimore-based Jews for Judaism, an international counter-missionary organization.

"This is a five-year campaign," Mr. Hillman said. Any metropolitan area with more than "25,000 Jews has been targeted," he said. The cost of the campaign, Mr. Hillman said, is $22 million, and several local papers and television stations have featured the "Behold Your God" campaign.

(The Baltimore Jewish Times maintains a policy of not publishing advertisements for Jews for Jesus or other Messianic organizations and congregations.)

Mr. Hillman said the campaign has been "used for years," but he said Jews for Jesus "want controversy." He said the ads are "not inciteful." In fact, the reason the ads were pulled was due to "grass-roots organizations" and not major Jewish organizations, which protested the content. He said he expects the campaign to move to Baltimore next year.

Mr. Hillman said the current campaign began on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul and was scheduled to end "this Shabbat," right after Rosh Hashanah.

"They picked the Washington area because it is the end of the tourist season, there is a lot of media, and because college students are returning to the area," he said.

Stephen Katz, director of Jews for Jesus in the Washington area, said he received complaints about stereotyping in the commercials. But he said he believes the complaints were simply a "smokescreen."

"People took offense at the clear message to the Jewish community about Jesus," Mr. Katz said, noting that even after the advertisement was changed, with music eliminated, the complaints continued.

"We eliminated the cause for complaints" and people still protested, he said. Mr. Katz said the complaint was "about the message" and not the way in which the ad was produced.

Mr. Hillman noted that Jews for Jesus has established a "new relationship with the fundamentalist churches," including the McLean (Va.) Bible Church. Lon Solomon, spiritual leader of the church, has openly advocated the conversion of Jews to Christianity. He has been on the board of Jews for Jesus since 1987 and is the chairman of the executive committee.

Mr. Solomon did not return phone calls from the Jewish Times.

Mr. Hillman said there is also a connection between the radio spots and the High Holidays. In fact, a visit to the Jews for Jesus Web site refers Jews who wish to attend Rosh Hashanah services to call McLean Bible Church, where the services were scheduled to be held Wednesday evening.

Mr. Hillman said that "600 local people from McLean Bible Church" have been trained to the tune of $200,000 to "feel comfortable approaching Jewish friends" and talking about Jesus.

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