Easter 'B.C.' Comic strip sparks controversy among Jews

By Joyce Howard Price



  A Jewish opinion writer has taken issue with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League for claiming that the Easter edition of the "B.C." comic strip by Johnny Hart, that ran in hundreds of newspapers on Easter Sunday, is anti‑Jewish.

  "Johnny Hart, a believing Christian whom the Guinness Book of World Records recognizes as the most syndicated cartoonist alive, is being crucified by no doubt well-meaning, but thoroughly clueless, comic‑strip aficionados for ‑ Heaven help us! ‑ an Easter‑themed cartoon that actually focuses on the spirituality of Easter and ignores chocolate eggs and big purple bunnies, " Binyamin L. JoIkovsky, editor in chief and publisher of JewishWorldReviewcom, wrote in an opinion Piece published in many newspapers that carry "B.C."

  As a Sabbath-observant Jew rabbinical school alumnus and publisher of the most‑accessed Jewish Web site, I see absolutely nothing wrong with Hart's message," he added.

  In a telephone interview on April 11 from his New York office, Mr. Jolkovsky said he finds it strange that the Anti‑Defamation League (ADL), which is recognized as the world's leading organization in fighting anti‑Semitism, "is now going after comic strips that are not anti‑Semitic. "

  The ADL is protesting Mr. Hart's Easter strip, which it says portrays Christianity as having replaced Judaism.

  "We're concerned. We think this borders on the offensive, because Johnny Hart is saying in this comic, strip that Christianity now supersedes Judaism," Abraham Foxman, president of the New York‑based ADL, said in a telephone interview.

  But Mr. Hart, an evangelical Christian who sometimes uses the "B.C." cartoon to make religious statements, denies such assertions. 'The God of Judaism and the God of Christianity is the same, and the people of Israel are his chosen people, and Jesus is one of them" he said in a statement on April 10.

  "This is a holy week for both Christians and Jews, and my intent was to pay tribute to both. I sincerely apologize if I have offended any readers, and I also sincerely hope that this cartoon will generate increased interest in religious awareness," said Mr. Hart, who declined to comment beyond the official statement.

  Mr. Jolkovsky thinks Mr. Hart has no need to apologize.

  The strip causing the uproar features a lit seven‑branch menorah in each frame, accompanied by the seven last words of Jesus Christ on the cross. As each of Jesus' final words is printed, a flame on the menorah ‑ a candelabra used in Jewish religious services is extinguished.

  "As the candles burn, the menorah, a sacred and venerated symbol of the Jewish people, is obliterated and turns into across, the symbol of Christianity," Irv Rubin, chairman of the militant Jewish Defense League (JDL), which is also disturbed by the strip, said at the JDL Web site.

  The ADL and the JDL both contend that the Easter “B.C.” strip is promoting replacement theology, or the theory that Christianity has replaced Judaism as the “chosen” religion.

  Said Mr. Foxman: “The menorah has no role or place in the Christian religion. But Johnny Hart uses the symbol of Judaism and makes it disappear into a cross,” making it appear “Christianity has replaced Judaism!”

  "It's one thing to preach your beliefs and your faith. But when you do that in a public arena, you need to be sensitive to other people’s religions,” he said.

  But Richard S. Newcombe, president of Creators Syndicated Inc., which distributesthe popular caveman comic strip to 1,300 and Sunday newspapers, denied the Easter Sunday strip is an attack on Judaism.

  "That's ridiculous," he said. "The comic strip is simply calendar recognition of two important religious: Passover which occurred the week before as indicated by the menorah, and Easter Sunday which begins the day the strip is run, as represented by the cross!”

  "Far from being anti‑Jewish, the strip is simply a celebration of Passover ... and Easter,” Mr. Newcombe said.

  But Mr. Foxman of the ADL doesn't buy that. "If that were the case, why not have the menorah, standing next to the cross? Instead, you have the words [of Jesus], 'It is finished,' and the cross stands alone," he said.

  The JDL urged newspapers that normally carry "B.C." not to run it Easter Sunday.

  In his three‑page opinion article, Mr. Jolkovsky, former contributing editor of the national Jewish weekly Forward, acknowledged he would be "outraged" if Mr. Hart “were blaming Jewry for having killed his savior.” But he said the cartoonist’s message is “one of love, not hate.”

  “I believe Hart is preaching that, despite Christianity being the majority religion in this nation, members of other faiths need not worry as they must in other lands.

Love thy neighbor," Mr. Jolkovsky said adding:

  “A comic strip in honor of a holy season that is not my own doesn’t send a chill down my spine, nor make my blood boil, even if it includes Jewish symbols.”

  This is not the first time Mr. Hart has sparked controversy with cartoons having religious overtones. In early 1999, The Washington Post stopped publishing his Sunday “B.C.” strips because of concerns about religious content. The Washington Post then filled the void.

  A spokesman for the Los Angles Times—Which in the past has pulled some strips with Christian themes during the Easter season—said that the newspaper canceled all “B.C.” strips effective April 8, which was Palm Sunday.

  Mr. Hart, in a previous interview with the Washington Times, said he was the victim of “anti-Christian bias.”