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Pepsi ad irks Israeli religious court


JERUSALEM -- Western corporations may need a fine-print warning when doing business here: Caution, advertising may be hazardous to your company.

For the second time in as many months, a major corporation has offended Jewish sensitivities in its advertising.

The depiction of an ape trudging along the evolutionary path for "10 million years" toward a can of Pepsi-Cola provoked outrage from an ultra-Orthodox organization yesterday.

The Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem does not accept evolution as the origin of man and considers creation to have occurred exactly 5,752 years ago. The court threatened to withdraw its certification that the soft drink sold here is prepared under kosher regulations.

"We certainly cannot agree with a campaign that contradicts Jewish law, and the first sentence of the Bible," said an official at the rabbinical court, who refused to give his name.

Loss of the kosher certificate -- known as the kashrut -- wouldvirtually stop sales here. The Israeli bottler of Pepsi quickly promised to change the ad campaign.

"I'll stop it immediately," said Moshe Bornstein, owner of Tempo, the Israeli distributor. "I am a religious Jew. I don't need Pepsi for my living," he said.

It was an inauspicious introduction of Pepsi to Israel. The soft drink has long been popular in the Arab world, but did not sell in Israel. Coca-Cola has dominated the Israeli market and has been boycotted in most Arab countries. The Arab boycott has diminished lately, but a spokesman for Pepsi said yesterday that "politics were not a consideration" in the decision to enter the Israeli market.

To get into the Israeli market, Pepsi recently obtained the kosher approval, which requires that rabbinical officials oversee preparation of the soft drink syrups where they are made in Ireland.

Then Pepsi designed a $4 million advertising campaign for Israel. Eye-catching ads began this week -- without any reference to the product -- featuring an ape and the slogan, "Ten million years before there was a choice . . ."

The ads were to continue in a sequence showing ape evolving into man, and finally man choosing between Pepsi and Coke.

The advertising company that prepared the ad campaign declined to comment yesterday, and its writers were meeting late into the night to try to salvage their work.

Last month, Lufthansa Airlines also stepped into an advertising pothole. The German carrier was seeking approval to sell some types of group rate tickets directly, instead of through travel agents.

When an Israeli association of travel agents blocked the move, Lufthansa decided to appeal directly to consumers. It ran newspaper advertisements featuring a cartoon of an irate customer learning he would have to pay more for his ticket at a travel agent's office.

The travel agents responded with even larger ads brandishing the cartoon as anti-Semitic. They reproduced the cartoon figure, printing it beside an evil-looking caricature of a Jew used in hate literature of Hitler's Germany.

Despite the strain of the comparison between the drawings, Lufthansa quickly backed off and agreed to submit the ticketing dispute to negotiation.

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