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Benetton's Lip-Locked Pope Photo Pulled After Vatican Outcry

Italian retailer Benetton is again pushing the boundaries of advertising with a provocative campaign. The ads portray global figures, including President Obama, shown kissing their nemeses. But the prickliest of the pics has the Pope smooching an Egyptian

Benetton's controversial Pope-Imam image
Benetton's controversial Pope-Imam image


ROME -- A digitally altered ad that portrays Pope Benedict XVI locking lips with Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque, has outraged Catholics worldwide. After a stern rebuke from the Vatican, Italian clothing company Benetton pulled its ad Thursday, a day after it first went public in Paris.

Benetton campaigns have been controversial before. In the 1980s and 1990s, photographer Oliviero Toscani orchestrated campaigns showing, among other images, a man dying from AIDS and a kiss between a nun and a priest. Recently, the company's new marketer, Erik Ravelo, came up with the idea of reviving its past provocative approach. On Wednesday, Benetton announced the launch of its new campaign, which revolves around the them "Unhate," an invented term meaning "without hate." The ads are inspired by a Cold War satirical mural portraying Erich Honecker, the then-head of East Germany, passionately kissing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

According to Benetton's executive deputy chairman, Alessandro Benetton, the aim of the campaign is to "fight hate." The digitally altered ads portray kisses between several odd couples, including U.S. President Barack Obama, shown kissing Chinese president Hu Jintao; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But of all the pairings, the one generating the biggest buzz is the controversial Pope-Imam image, which Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described as showing "a serious lack of respect for the Pope."

In the end, the Italian company decided to pull the ads. "We want to point out again that the meaning of the campaign is just to fight the culture of hate, in every shape," said Alessandro Benetton. "On the other hand, we are sorry if the use of an image of the Pope and the Imam offended faithful. For this reason, we have decided to pull the ads immediately," Benetton concluded.

Read the full story in Italian by Alberto Mattioli

Photo – Benetton

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After Abbas: Here Are The Three Frontrunners To Be The Next Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Photo of Mahmoud Abbas speaking into microphone

Abbas is 88, and has been the leading Palestinian political figure since 2005

Thaer Ganaim/APA Images via ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

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But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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