New Testament Videos Under Fire for Sinister Portrayal of Jews

A widely advertised series of videotapes, “Animated Stories From The New Testament,” has drawn fire from two Jewish organizations, which charge that the videos abound in grotesque and sinister Jewish stereotypes reminiscent of Nazi caricatures.

The videos were produced by the Family Entertainment Network in Dallas.

Both the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League have protested that the skillfully animated videos, aimed at Christian children, carry the potential of implanting anti-Semitism in young viewers.

Stephen Griffith, chief executive of the Family Entertainment Network, has agreed to discuss the matter with Jewish leaders.

In a statement, Griffith said: “We are saddened that offense was taken” in regard to “our classically animated stories based on the King James version of the Bible. We are in no way an anti-Semitic organization nor would we wish to propagate materials which may serve an anti-Semitic position.”

The strongest objection to the videos revolves around the drawings of the characters.

Jews who rejected Jesus have long, hooked noses, whining voices and sinister leers, and are portrayed as cunning moneylenders, bribe-givers and inhumane doctors and rabbis. For anyone missing the point, these Jews are almost invariably shown wearing prayer shawls and skullcaps.

By contrast, the Jews who accept Christianity have fair, all-American features, Gentile noses, soft voices, and no prayer shawls or skullcaps.

REMINISCENT OF ‘DER STURMER’

“The message seems to be that God grants nose jobs to Jews who become Christians,” observed television critic Howard Rosenberg in the Los Angeles Times.

Leaders of both the ADL and the Wiesenthal Center said the animated portrayals are reminiscent of the vicious anti-Semitic caricatures favored by Nazi leader Julius Streicher in his newspaper “Der Sturmer.”

In addition to the physical distortions of the Jewish cartoon characters, parts of the videos are historically inaccurate, show considerable ignorance of biblical Judaism, and go even beyond the negative portrayals of Jews in the New Testament, according to an ADL analysis by its director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Leon Klenicki.

The videos are sold in shopping malls and have been heavily promoted on television and cable stations across the country through 30-minute commercials.

These commercials carry long excerpts from the videos and enthusiastic endorsements from 14 Christian religious and lay leaders serving on the producer’s “executive advisory board.”

Included in the set of 12 videotapes is an activity book of suggested games and discussions and a coloring book encouraging youngsters to draw good and bad characters seen in the videos.

ADL, alerted to the videos two months ago by members who saw the television commercial, decided to work quietly with executives at the Family Entertainment Network.

“We sensed a readiness on their part to deal in good faith with the issues we raised,” said Charney Bromberg, ADL’s director of intergroup relations.

The Wiesenthal Center, which also reviewed the first seven videos, took a more public route and, to the chagrin of the videos’ producers, alerted the Los Angeles Times.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Griffin said he was “shocked” by the Jewish criticism and that no slight was intended.

“In every story, like in any Disney animation, there are good guys and bad guys,” Griffin said. “We didn’t mean anything slanderous to our Jewish friends.”

COMMERCIALS DISCONTINUED

Screening of the commercial in its present form has been discontinued by television stations in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center.

On Wednesday, ADL officials in New York and officials of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles were sent copies of a modified version of the commercial. The new version does not include the offensive caricatures contained in the original commercial. Other offensive portions of the first version have been excised as well.

But the Family Entertainment Network, while agreeing to further meetings, has not committed itself to altering the videos themselves. In a letter to Bromberg, Griffin said only that the network “would review and, if and when possible, revise our material.”

Nevertheless, Bromberg, in a telephone interview, said he is convinced that Griffin is acting in good faith.

“Their intentions were not anti-Semitic, although the effect is deeply troubling. We believe they are sincere in not wanting to do harm and in wanting to rectify the problem,” he said.

“If they are unwilling or unable to make changes,” he added, “we will address it at that time and say so publicly.”

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