- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ruling Labor Party, seeking to get its general election campaign off with a bang, appears instead to have misfired over a pair of posters that have outraged Jewish groups.

Critics say one of the posters depicts opposition Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, a Jew, as a character resembling Charles Dickens’ Jewish pickpocket Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” or the villainous Shylock in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” Mr. Howard is shown swinging a pocket watch in hypnotic fashion and saying, “I can spend the same money twice.”

The second poster shows a pair of flying pigs with the heads of Mr. Howard and Conservative treasury spokesman Oliver Letwin, also of Jewish descent, with a message about Conservatives’ sums not adding up.

In the Jewish faith, pigs are regarded as not clean.

The Labor Party had carried photographs of these and two other posters on its Web site for several days, with an invitation to Labor supporters to vote on which should be used during the run-up to the next election, expected this spring, when Mr. Howard hopes to unseat Mr. Blair.

But the offending posters were withdrawn after some Jewish leaders said they left the Labor Party and the prime minister open to charges of anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a spokesman for the Reform Synagogues that of Great Britain, told reporters the poster images were “poisonous.” He insisted, “It crosses the fine line between genuine political attack and unacceptable anti-Semitic undertones.”

Ned Temko, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, told British Broadcasting Corp. Radio that “Shylock and Fagin are inextricably linked to notions of centuries-old prejudice.”

A Labor spokesman said the posters had been removed from the party Web site. He insisted that the timing was coincidental and that they were not anti-Semitic, so no apology was necessary.

“This has been up on the Web site for two weeks, and there has only been a fuss in the last four days,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Howard refrained from accusing either Mr. Blair or the Labor Party of anti-Semitism, but charged the prime minister with engaging in hypocrisy.

He said Mr. Blair, in a speech before the 1997 elections that put Labor in power, had accused the Conservatives of planning personal attacks against Labor leaders. “It is such a pity that Mr. Blair does not practice what he preaches,” Mr. Howard said.

Election posters have fueled more than a few outbursts of fury on Britain’s political stage in the past. When a Conservative advertisement depicted Mr. Blair with “demon eyes” in 1997, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled it improper.

That no longer appears to be the case. “Since 1999, it has been the case that political advertising has been exempt from regulation,” an Advertising Standards Authority spokesman said in response to reporters’ questions about the latest Labor posters.

Still, Mr. Blair and his party inadvertently have come up with several million dollars’ worth of free publicity, an analyst estimates.

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