The mayor of Cleveland and a coalition of Jewish, Christian and African-American groups are expressing outrage over a gas station’s outdoor wall murals, including one that appears to show a rabbi performing oral sex on a baby. The owner claims it depicts a circumcision ritual.
The images, which are painted outside a Biggie’s gas station and convenience store across the street from an elementary school, are being described as “grotesque,” “highly offensive” and “anti-Semitic.”
In their reports on the controversy, local television stations blurred the mural labeled “Talmudic Priests in Church, $ex With Minors Permitted” to avoid offending viewers and to abide by FCC rules prohibiting the broadcast of obscene material. The mural showed a man depicted as a stereotypical Jew in dark jacket and yarmulke with a beard and long sidelocks. The baby, whose eyes are crossed, appears to be trying to push the man’s head away from between its legs.
Cleveland’s WOIO-TV called the painting a “stomach-turning image” and reported that viewers had called into the station to complain.
Another mural shows “The Faces of Jesus,” which includes the phrase, “To Jews he’s a bastard who's in hell.”
“We are appalled by the intolerance and bigotry these signs convey," Anti-Defamation League regional director Anita Gray told the Cleveland Jewish News on Wednesday. “The owner of this establishment has the right to have it decorated as he chooses, but we urge fellow members of the community to join us in saying, loudly and clearly, that such hate is not welcome here, and we categorically reject it."
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has called “the graphic painting” “totally unacceptable” and “offensive to the city of Cleveland and its residents.” He said he is urging the owner of the business to remove it and if not will “explore all legal avenues” to have it removed.
The executive director of the city’s Community Relations Board, Blaine Griffin, told the Cleveland Jewish News earlier this week that he has met with owner Brahim “Abe” Ayad.
“The owner is non-cooperative, and we are now looking at other avenues to address this situation,” Griffin said. “I told the owner there are many children in the area, and to allow this image to continue to exist is inexcusable and abominable.”
“We have made visits to him in the past because he has put up racially and ethnically intolerable images on his building, and we have tried to work with him on an amicable solution. But with this one, we made it clear he has crossed the line completely,” Griffin told the local paper.
Here's a news report from WEWS-TV:
The Cleveland Jewish News spoke to the owner Ayad by telephone on Tuesday. The paper reported that at first he was concerned he would be misquoted and said he had no comment.
Later, he reportedly said: “I’m more Jewish than all of these people calling me an anti-Semite put together. That’s my bloodline.”
“It’s my right (to put up the images), as my father paid his dues in blood in World War II for you guys,” he said. “Get off my back.”
He told Cleveland’s WOIO-TV last week that he stands behind the “Talmudic priest” and baby mural which he described as depicting a circumcision.
Ayad said he too was disturbed by the painting, though he allowed it to go up on his exterior wall.
"Yes, I am - actually, I am very - but that is all I have to say," he said.
The Cleveland Jewish News reported in 2009 that Ayad was born in the U.S. and is of Palestinian descent.
The Rev. Joseph Hilinski, a Catholic priest who is director of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland’s Interfaith Commission, told the Cleveland Jewish News that the mural titled “Talmudic Priests in Church” is offensive to both Catholics and Jews.
“It’s like propaganda,” he said. “You have the freedom to do what you want, but it doesn’t do (Ayad) any good to attack or besmirch Catholics and Jews,” he said.