Newspaper Ad Criticized as Anti-Semitic Prompts Apologies

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An advertisement that was criticized as anti-Semitic has prompted apologies from the credit union that placed the ad and the newspaper that published it.

The quarter-page ad for PeoplesChoice Credit Union featured an Old West-style “Wanted” poster with a photo of a man purporting to be a banker intent on collecting a broad range of fees. It appeared Wednesday in the Portland Press Herald.

Critics said the man, who had a bushy beard and wore a suit and a short-brimmed hat, resembled a Hasidic Jew and the depiction drew on painful stereotypes.

“There are images and caricatures that have historically been used to demonize and marginalize Jewish people, with grave, grave consequences,” said Andrew Tarsy, director of the Anti-Defamation League New England. “You put that ad in front of a person who has been sensitized to that experience, and you see the reaction on their face.”

Officials of the credit union and the Press Herald said there was no intent to offend anyone and planned to meet with representatives of Maine’s Jewish community to express regrets and look at ways to prevent similar incidents.

An ad for the First Baptist Church two weeks ago drew similar criticism. That ad, placed on the Press Herald’s religion page, promoted a sermon titled, “The Only Way to Destroy the Jewish Race.”

While the sermon expressed support for Jews and Israel, its title triggered complaints to the church and the newspaper, which were followed by apologies.

After the second incident, the Press Herald said it planned to provide sensitivity training to its staff and institute controls to prevent future problems.

“One of this company’s core values is to bring the communities we serve together, certainly not to divide them,” said Robert Bickler, the newspaper’s president and general manager. “Obviously this represents an error on our part.”

Luke Labbe, manager of PeoplesChoice, said the ad was part of a campaign intended to evoke old themes. An earlier ad featured a pirate inmage and the next was intended to be an Old West banker.

‘”We didn’t mean it to be offensive, but in hindsight, it is, and we’ve pulled that ad. We plead ignorance, I guess,” Labbe said.

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