A radio commercial for the evangelical group Jews for Jesus has been dropped by classical music station WGMS, while the general manager of all-news WTOP and modern-rock Z104 said he would continue to air the ad only if it is altered. All three stations said they received numerous letters and complaints from Jewish listeners.
Jews for Jesus leaders said WASH and classic-rock WARW also informed them late yesterday that the commercial would be pulled unless the group comes up with another one. WJFK and WMAL are running the spot unchanged, according to the group.
The 60-second spot features two men debating whether Jesus is the Messiah and inviting listeners to "come, it's time to take a look, and think for yourself." They speak with "Yiddish accents" while klezmer music plays in the background, said Stephen Katz, Washington director of the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus.
Joel Oxley, general manager of WGMS, dropped the commercial after a week, saying the station's "mission is not to offend." He added, "When people come to us, they want to be soothed and they want to hear the great classical music. It was not the case when they heard the advertising."
Oxley, who also manages WTOP and WWZZ (Z104), said he made a different decision for those stations because their news and talk programs aim to be open to all points of view.
Still, he asked Jews for Jesus to alter the commercial. "We started to get a lot of complaints about the characterization of Jewish people, the accents of the people in the advertisement and the music, so while we decided we would keep the script, we would not keep the accents and the music," he said.
Jews for Jesus officials said they are considering redoing the entire ad, but complained that Jewish leaders tried to counter it with a letter-writing campaign.
"I just find it rather disconcerting if you have a contract and you've worked out an arrangement and the ad is honest and clear, that you could have a letter-writing campaign pressure stations to drop ads," said Susan Perlman, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus.
The commercials are part of the group's $200,000 campaign to evangelize the Washington region and especially the region's 220,000 Jews. Hundreds of its volunteers are handing out religious tracts at Metro stops and area parks until Sept. 18. The blitz of evangelism also includes weekly ads on seven of the most popular radio stations in the area and in several newspapers, including The Washington Post. The content of the print ads is similar to that of the radio ads.
But the campaign is an anathema to Jewish groups. Scott Hillman, for one, who founded the counter-missionary group Jews for Judaism in Baltimore, has said: "Jews cannot believe in Jesus and remain Jewish."
Hillman said he has been training teams to fan out at Metro stops and parks to hand out literature that seeks to discredit Jews for Jesus.
"If you offend your audience, you are going to lose listeners," Hillman said. "Radio stations have the right to take or not take ads from certain people and they listened to their audience who said, 'We don't want to hear about this product, it's offensive.' "