July 2, 2014
Mr. Philip H. Knight
Chairman of the Board
Mr. Mark Parker
President and Chief Executive Officer
Nike World Headquarters
One Bowerman Drive
Beaverton, OR 97005
Dear Mr. Knight and Mr. Parker:
We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., whose mission includes fighting anti-Semitism in schools, textbooks and the media. We are shocked and appalled by an animated promotional video for Nike (entitled “The Last Game”), transmitted over the Internet in advance of the World Cup. The video features animated international soccer stars competing against evil clones who have taken over the sport. These evil clones are wearing uniforms bearing a logo that looks virtually identical to the Jewish Star of David, which is also the symbol on the flag of the Jewish State of Israel. The advertising boards in the video bear the same Star-of-David-like logo. And in the background of the video, there are images of a white rectangle with the same Star of David image in the center – looking very much like the Israeli flag (without the blue stripes.) We have received numerous complaints about the video from individuals who understandably believe that it is conveying an anti-Semitic message.
We understand that Nike has already received several complaints about the video – including from a member of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), Shimon Ohayon, who is a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism, and from Yaakov Hagoel, the head of the World Zionist Organization’s division for combating anti-Semitism. Disturbingly, Nike has dismissed the concerns, claiming that the Star-of-David-like image was intended to represent a football [i.e., a soccer ball] and that its resemblance to the Jewish Star of David is “entirely coincidental and unintentional.” Nike claims that “the image was in no way designed to cause any offense.”
Whether Nike intended to cause offense is not the point. We in the Jewish community are offended – and appalled – and deeply so. That fact alone should be enough to inspire Nike to fix the problem and do whatever is necessary to ensure that the problem does not recur. But frankly, based on other elements of the video, it is difficult to believe that the video did not have some malevolent purpose or that Nike’s use of the Star-of-David-like image was coincidental and unintentional.
Some of the animated soccer stars in the video – i.e., the “good guys” – are wearing shirts with a “Fly Emirates” logo and a “Qatar Airways” logo, which must mean that these Arab airlines co-sponsored the video. It is no secret that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have a deeply troubling history of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel.
Only a year ago, an anti-Semitic television series was broadcast internationally on Dubai TV. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described this TV series as containing classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, “such as portraying a Jewish conspiracy to undermine Arabs and depicting Jews as cheap, greedy and immoral.” In addition, the ADL reported that many involved in the production of the series, including the writer and an actor, publicly said that the series’ goal was to show the “real face” of the Jew. (http://www.adl.org/anti-semitism/muslim-arab-world/c/letter-to-uae-ambassador-regarding-khaiber.html.) Notably, the series was produced by a production company from Qatar.
Qatar has its own problems with Jew-hatred. The ADL reported that last May, a conference in Qatar featured anti-Semitism and pro-terror messages. One speaker at the conference glorified the killing of Jews as part of the Islamic tradition. Another speaker promoted the use of violence against Israel and denied Israel’s right to exist, saying, “Time has come to encourage Arabs and Muslims to fight for the liberation of Palestine because rights can’t return without force.” (http://blog.adl.org/international/conference-in-qatar-features-anti-semitism-and-pro-terror-messages.) Last December, an international book fair held in Qatar featured many anti-Semitic books, including books promoting Hitler, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. (http://blog.adl.org/international/qatari-uk-2013-book-fair-anti-semitism.) Given these examples of Jew-hatred in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – whose airlines likely co-sponsored the Nike video – Nike’s claim that that the misuse of Jewish images in the video was “entirely coincidental and unintentional” is difficult to accept.
In addition to the anti-Jewish imagery, the video’s message – “Risk Everything” – is deeply concerning. It is hard to believe that the video is promoting that everything should be risked simply to win a game of soccer. The Nike video’s repeated use of the Jewish Star-of-David-like image, and the fact that all the evil clones are wearing the Jewish Star of David and they must be defeated by soccer stars, some of whom are wearing the names of Arab entities, could easily and understandably be interpreted as sending the following message: Risk everything and do everything you have to do to get rid of the evil Jews.
Nike must act promptly, constructively and decisively to counteract the perception that its video is promoting anti-Semitism. This is particularly important given that anti-Semitism here in the U.S. and around the world is a serious problem that is increasing dramatically. Studies have shown that last year, the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults in the U.S. significantly increased. Last April, three people were murdered at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement community in the Kansas City area, by a neo-Nazi motivated by his hatred for Jews. Last Sunday, a 79-year-old Orthodox Jewish man was senselessly hit in the head and knocked to the ground in Brooklyn.
Anti-Semitism is also surging in Europe. In Paris alone, there have been a series of violent anti-Semitic attacks: In May, for example, a woman assaulted a Jewish mother and her baby, shouting, “Dirty Jews, enough with your children already, you Jews have too many children, screw you.” (http://www.jta.org/2014/05/15/news-opinion/world/jewish-mother-baby-assaulted-in-paris.) In June, a gang of teenagers tasered a Jewish teenager wearing a kippah and tzitzit. (http://forward.com/articles/199877/jewish-teenager-wearing-kippah-attacked-with-taser/.) Also in June, a gang of 20 attackers physically assaulted Jewish students wearing kippahs at a Paris library, and stabbed two of the Jewish students who tried to flee. (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/182118.) In May, four people were killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/manhunt-underway-brussels-jewish-museum-shooter-article-1.1804920.) There are constant reports of Jews throughout Europe being beaten, cursed at, and spit upon. Out of necessity, virtually every synagogue in Europe is protected by a guard, and this is becoming increasingly true in the U.S.
Given all these alarming incidents of attacks on Jews, we assume that Nike does not want to be seen as promoting anti-Semitism. MK Ohayon is absolutely right when he said, “Success in combating anti-Semitism requires a determined, ceaseless battle and a sharp, immediate reaction to every anti-Semitic message, therefore we must respond to every incident and remain alert to this sly propaganda.”
In 1997, Nike responded promptly and with concern and sensitivity when members of the Muslim community took offense at a logo that appeared on a line of Nike’s summer basketball shoes. The word “air” was written in flaming letters on the back of the shoes. But to members of the Muslim community, the logo was seen as resembling the word “Allah,” which some Muslims found offensive.
Once Nike became aware of this concern, it immediately recalled the product from worldwide sale and publicly apologized to the Muslim community. Nike took other steps to rectify the problem it created, including improving the scrutiny of all its graphic designs and sensitizing Nike’s designers to Islamic issues and Islamic imagery so as not to offend the Muslim community again.
We strongly urge you to show the same concern and sensitivity to the Jewish community that is offended by Nike’s use of an image virtually identical to the Star of David. Not only has Nike appropriated and misused an identifiably Jewish symbol, but it has also linked it to an alien, evil breed of clones. The dreadful significance of associating Jews with a malevolent, foreign force is offensive, frightening and dangerous.
It is thus imperative that Nike take the following steps:
(1) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, issue a public apology to the Jewish community;
(2) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, remove the ad from the public domain;
(3) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, permanently cease using any image or symbol that resembles the Star of David or any other Jewish symbol;
(4) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, implement organizational changes in your design department to tighten scrutiny of logo designs, so that this offense to the Jewish community is not repeated;
(5) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, investigate how an image of the Star of David came to be used, so that Nike and the Jewish community can be satisfied that there was in fact no intent to offend the Jewish community; and
(6) Just as Nike did in response to concerns raised by members of the Muslim community, issue a public statement after the investigation is completed, delineating all the remedial steps that have been and will be taken to remedy the harm that Nike has caused.
The ZOA would be pleased to work with Nike to educate your company on identifying Jewish imagery, so that Nike can avoid this debacle from recurring.
No one should wrongly interpret the Nike video as a sign that Nike is anti-Semitic. That would not be good for the Jewish people. That would not be good for Nike.
We ask that you respond to the concerns we have raised no later than July 31st. Please do not put us in a position where we are compelled to publicly urge people to stop purchasing Nike products. Thank you.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
Director, Center for Law and Justice