PRAGUE (Feb. 2)
A controversial television advertisement that depicts a Jew in traditional Orthodox garb trying to ratchet down the price of a chainsaw is being broadcast in Slovakia, a year after it elicited protests from Jews in the Czech Republic. The ad’s portrayal of a Jew as a stereotypical wheeler-dealer driving a hard bargain shouldn’t be an issue in Slovakia “because it is a Catholic country,” explained Ladislav Segin, the Slovak director of Mountfield, the firm that is running the ad.
The Mountfield garden equipment company, which has Czech and Slovak headquarters, gained worldwide attention last year after the Israel’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, Arthur Avnon, asked the Czech branch to stop the running ads, which he said “describes Jewish people in a way that the worst anti-Semites would describe them: As greedy.”
A series of radio, television and newspaper interviews with Czech Jewish leaders followed, but as the ad was only slotted for a short run, the protests did not have an impact on its airing.
The Mountfield ad features a well-known Czech comedian, Zdenek Izer, dressed as a religious Jew with a long fake beard, large black hat and flowing black robes. He rubs his hands together with apparent cunning as he asks the Mountfield cartoon mascot, “What’s all this trumf stuff about?” referring to a slot on the firm’s carnival-like wheel of fortune that provides discounts to shoppers.
As the Jewish character repeatedly wins discounts from the wheel, he tells the dejected mascot, “Don’t give me that,” in language that is stereotypical of 1930s Jewish slang. Leaving the store with a greatly discounted chainsaw, the Jewish bargain shopper pretends to the mascot that his cheap booty is “no big deal,” but then shows the audience that he knows better, grotesquely sticking his tongue out, revealing that he has duped Mountfield with his haggling skills.
In February 2004, Ivan Drbohlav, the Czech CEO of Mountfield, acknowledged after meeting with Avnon that the ad could have “a negative impact on the 5 percent of the population that seeks to misuse ethnic stereotypes for extremist purposes.”
But this awareness has not deterred the Slovak branch of Mountfield, which began running the ad at the end of January on all three major Slovak national television stations several times per day. The ad is set to stop running Feb. 10, which several prominent Slovak Jews said meant that there would not be enough time for the government’s advertising council to process official complaints about the ad and then curtail it.
Still, the president of the council told the Slovak daily Sme that the Mountfield spot borders on violating the council code of conduct intended to prevent advertising that encourages prejudice.
Jozef Weiss, secretary of the Slovak Federation of Jewish Communities, told JTA that the ad “is offensive to the Jewish people in Slovakia because it uses the stereotype that the Slovak state used during World War II, a stereotype that lived on after the war, depicting Jews as businessmen enriching themselves at the expense of regular Slovaks.”
Slovakia’s prewar population was some 90,000. Today there are only about 3,000 Jews living the country, which has a population of roughly 5.4 million.
In a phone interview, Segin, said he had received no complaints about the ad. “Quite the opposite. We did informal surveys around our stores and people responded very positively.”
He denied that the ads were anti-Semitic.
“The commercial shows the well-known ability of Jews to make good deals. What’s wrong with that?” he asked.