Sound And Fury Over Jews For Jesus Ads


WABC TalkRadio is giving Jews an earache. Despite numerous complaints, the popular AM radio station has refused to stop running an ad from the Jews for Jesus group that many Jewish leaders term offensive.

As a result, hundreds of New York pulpit rabbis have been asked to encourage congregants to protest to WABC management.

"We urge you to inform congregants to strongly and civilly voice their opinions," according to a "community action alert" recently faxed to hundreds of rabbis and community leaders by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

The alert calls the ad "an affront" and notes that Jewish leaders of all denominations agree that Messianic Judaism (which calls for belief in Jesus as God) is not compatible with Judaism. It also urges congregants to express their "personal pain" to WABC management.

The controversial ads prompted hours of radio discussion last week.

"We’ve gotten a lot of complaints," said Philip Abramowitz, director of JCRC’s Task Force on Missionaries and Cults. "This is very disconcerting for the Jewish community."

Agudath Israel of America has also launched an e-mail campaign against WABC.

The radio ad, which first aired last year, is part of the annual Jews for Jesus summer missionizing campaign targeting New York City. WABC and WOR both ran the spot last year. WOR decided against running it this year, said station general manager Bob Bruno, who called the decision "very difficult." WABC program director Phil Boyce did not return phone calls from The Jewish Week.

The 60-second spot opens with the strains of "Hava Negilah" followed by a male announcer who says "If you’re Jewish, there’s a book that must be on your must-read list." He proceeds to push "Testimonies," a free book that relates the stories of 16 Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah.

"Now you probably think that’s about as Jewish as, well, … a pork chop," the announcer says with flair. "But this book could change your thinking." He pauses. "About Jesus, not pork chops."

Jewish critics contend the station would never accept an ad from a group advocating that Christians abandon Christ.

"If a Confederate flag can be moved by a state legislature out of consideration for the feelings of citizens, is it too much to ask that a respected radio station shun a campaign that deeply pains a religious group, that insults the memory of its countless martyrs who died rather than abandon their ancestral faith," Agudah spokesman Avi Shafran wrote in an e-mail. Shafran termed the ads "fraudulent."

Boyce responded that while he realizes that WABC’s many Jewish listeners are offended by the ad, "it places WABC in a difficult position of censorship to ban the ad simply because we don’t agree with the message.

"If the ad preached hatred, or scammed money, or included an obscenity, I could ban it based on our standards and practices guidelines," Boyce wrote. "If I begin to ban ads based on the ad’s message, where would that stop? The next ad I might have to ban could be something you agreed with."

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and a co-host of WABC’s "Religion on the Line" Sunday morning show, told The Jewish Week "I think it’s a matter of an arbitrary decision. It gets into where you draw the line on accepting ads. I can draw the line here, and they don’t."

But Rabbi Potasnik, who disagrees with management’s decision to run the ad, said he was not going to rock the boat, noting that WABC also gives him a public forum hosting a radio show six hours a month to talk about Judaism.

Asked why he thought WABC would choose to infuriate Jewish listeners, Shafran said: "I’m thinking money. I’m thinking they are happy over the publicity because people are upset."

WOR’s Bruno told The Jewish Week that the revenue from the Jews for Jesus campaign is "substantial": but he declined to name the cost.

It was unclear at midweek how long the Jews for Jesus ad on WABC would run.