Net Firm Will Drop Jews for Jesus Ad

The Boston Globe/August 11, 1999
By Sara Neufeld

In a case pitting free expression against user protest in the new world of on-line advertising, Waltham-based Lycos Inc., a major Internet search engine, will not renew an advertisement placed by Jews for Jesus after a flood of complaints from the Jewish community.

Jews for Jesus paid $1,700 for a banner to appear at the top of computer screens of the first 40,000 people who type in the word ''Jewish'' as a search term, said Jews for Jesus spokeswoman Susan Perlman.

The group, which began in the early 1970s, has about 70,000 followers nationwide who, it says, practice Judaism while believing that Jesus is the Messiah. The banner that Lycos has run advertises a book by the group's director promoting that ideology.

The contract for the advertisement is scheduled to expire within a few days. ''Controversial advertising is bad for business,'' said Jeffrey Snider, general counsel for Lycos. He said that the decision not to renew had nothing to do with the content of the ad, but he emphasized that the company does not want Jews to boycott Lycos.

Perlman said yesterday that she had not been informed of Lycos's decision, and argued that the Internet is by nature a forum to express a variety of views and therefore is inherently controversial.

''They may as well find another planet to operate from if they don't want controversy,'' she said. ''We're saddened that they have succumbed to pressure.'' Jews for Jesus, which typically has spread its message through fliers and leaflets, placed the advertisement through a sales representative in Lycos's San Francisco office, Snider said. To reach a targeted audience, customers pay Lycos to link their ads with search terms.

Perlman said Jews for Jesus chose to have its name attached to the search term ''Jewish'' under the assumption that many Jews would see it.

They were right.

Although the ad started running July 6, executives at Lycos's national headquarters in Waltham said they were not aware of it until they received several angry e-mail messages from Jews beginning on July 29. The company would not discuss the content of the messages or say how many it received. ''These people are not Jews and are ignorant about Judaism,'' said one message, written by a woman who identified herself as Patricia Heil. ''They have involved you in false advertising.''

The flashing advertisement, about 1 inch high and 3 inches wide, shows the Jews for Jesus logo, with the Star of David replacing the ''o'' in the word ''for.''

It reads: ''The end of the world is no time to finally realize Jesus is the Messiah. (It's all in the book.) Click for free copy!''

When users click on the advertisement, a Web page appears from the Jews for Jesus site, with an order form for the book. The page included a reference to Lycos.

Because of that, Lycos executives pulled the ad on July 30, arguing that it gave the appearance that the company endorsed Jews for Jesus, Snider said. Within days, the reference was removed from the page and the ad reappeared a week later.

Though Lycos is legally obliged to carry out the contract, the company does not have to renew it, Snider said.

Diane Kolb, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's Boston office, said her group, which fights anti-Semitism, is a strong proponent of the First Amendment. But, she said, ''Jews can't be for Jesus.'' She said her group urged Lycos to discontinue the ad because she believes the message is misleading - and blasphemous. ''It's very seductive material for a lot of Jews,'' Kolb said. ''If I'm a Jew struggling with my identity living in this Christian society, I could believe in Jesus, then I could have Christmas and I wouldn't have to be different from everyone else. ''That's kind of cozy, but it's offering people an option that isn't available, and that's what we have a problem with.''

Last month, talk-show host Joan Rivers, who is Jewish, lashed out at the group on the air after it advertised the book ''Future Hope'' during her show. Steven Hassan, an authority on cults and brainwashing, said ''They're essentially Baptists who are putting up money to recruit Jews, saying you can be a Jew and a Christian simultaneously,'' said Hassan, who runs the Freedom of Mind Resource Center.

Still, Perlman insisted that Jews can legitimately believe in Jesus, calling her group ''a small minority of a minority.'' She said that Jews should be free to decide for themselves what they want to read and analyze.

''It's a shame that there are people who want to block our message and prevent people from thinking for themselves,'' Perlman said. ''The Web is supposed to be a marketplace for all kinds of ideas, and people can click on them or pass them by.''

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