LOS ANGELES (Sep. 16)
The producers of a controversial series of animated Bible videos have agreed to make every effort to remedy the series’ alleged anti-Semitic stereo-typing and story line.
The skillfully crafted “Animated Stories From The New Testament,” aimed at Christian children, have drawn strong protests from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and individual viewers who have seen the 30-minute television commercial promoting the series of 12 videos.
Criticism has centered on the drawings of Jews, which remind some of Nazi caricatures. Jewish characters in the videos who oppose Jesus are pictured with long, hooked noses, whining voices and sinister leers.
They are portrayed as cunning moneylenders, bribe-givers and uncaring doctors and rabbis and, lest anyone miss the point, almost always wear prayer shawls and skullcaps.
By contrast, the Jewish characters who accept Christianity have fair, all-American features, Gentile noses, soft voices — and no prayer shawls or skullcaps.
Executives at the Dallas-based Family Entertainment Network, which produced the videos, have reacted with surprise and shock to the Jewish criticism.
In meetings with ADL leaders in New York on Sept. 11 and with the top echelon of the Wiesenthal Center the following day in Los Angeles, the executives made a convincing case that while they may have lacked sensitivity, their motivation was neither malicious nor anti-Semitic. And they readily agreed, early in the discussions, to excise three particularly offensive segments from their television commercial.
The Family Entertainment delegation included Chief Operating Officer Stephen Griffin; President Donald Sills; the director and producer of the video series, Richard Rich; and chief animator Steven Gordon.
“For three and a half hours, we carefully went over the first nine videos,” said Charney Bromberg, ADL’s director of intergroup relations, describing the New York meeting.
ENORMOUS EXPENSE INVOLVED
While the producers pointed to the enormous difficulty and expense of retrofitting the videos, 400,000 of which reportedly have already been sold, they agreed to make every effort to meet the ADL objections.
“It won’t be easy, but we hope that the damage can be lessened by taking out some footage, voice-overs, contextual explanatory material at the beginning and accompanying written material,” said Bromberg.
The ADL executive said the Family Entertainment delegation promised to submit its changes within 10 days, “and we will keep negotiating from there on.”
In light of the numerous interfaith dialogues of the past decades in the United States, how was it possible for the producers to so completely misread the sensitivities of the Jewish community, Bromberg was asked.
He responded by pointing out that much of the impetus and audience for the videos are found in the Evangelical Christian community, which has been largely left out of the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
“We have talked mainly with the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant groups, but we hope that our present discussions will open the door” to the Evangelicals, said Bromberg.
Bromberg estimated that there are between 60 million and 65 million adherents of fundamentalist, charismatic and Evangelical churches in the United States, who have been among the strongest Christian supporters of Israel.
In general, Evangelicals do not make the connection between the Jews of the New Testament era and present-day Jews, Bromberg said, which may account for their astonishment at the offense taken by 20th-century Jews at the maligning of their first-century ancestors.
ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER RESIGNS
Participating in the New York meeting were Rabbi Leon Klenicki, ADL’s director of interfaith affairs, and Yechiel Eckstein, a Chicago rabbi and director of the Holyland Fellowship for Christians and Jews, which focuses on outreach to the Evangelical community.
Eckstein and the Family Entertainment group flew to Los Angeles on Sept. 12 to meet with Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s dean and associate dean.
During the meeting, the visitors were conducted through the center’s Holocaust museum and shown a display of anti-Semitic caricatures, ranging from medieval times to those depicted in the notorious Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer.
Cooper reported that the visitors were strongly affected by the tour, none more so than Gordon, the chief animator, who is Jewish.
Also discussed were numerous changes in the videos, with the visitors giving a “basic commitment” that they would try to ameliorate the more offensive segments, said Cooper.
In a related development, Father Michael Manning, a Catholic television evangelist, formally resigned from the 12-person executive advisory board for the video series.
In his letter of resignation, Manning said that he had initially reviewed and warmly endorsed the videos. “My inability to detect the offensive characterizations ashamedly speaks of my insensitivity to the fears and concerns of many Jews,” he wrote.