In the latter half of 2013 it is not surprising that – when caught – a public company would apologize for using a Jewish symbol as an icon for greed. And that’s just what happened recently. But how much longer will it take before whispering an-after-the-fact, passive apology, which sounds heartfelt if you read it quickly but which, upon examination, appears to be anything but, is no longer acceptable?
First the background.
An online daily discount deals site, LivingSocial, hosted a “7 Deadly Sins Halloween Party” on Oct. 26 in Washington, D.C. The party, held at LivingSocial’s 918 F Street address, had seven different rooms, each representing one of the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.
Dreidels, an iconic symbol for Hanukkah – and for Jews – were placed in the LivingSocial’s party room for greed. There were also gold coins. This room was advertised on the LivingSocial Events page : “In this shimmering room full of silver and gold, we’ll get greedy challenging friends to a plethora of games, all while sipping on a Midas Touch cocktail.”
Someone at the party was not amused. This person’s disappointment was conveyed to Washington Jewish Week senior writer Suzanne Pollack, and the story was then picked up by a (very) few other media outlets.
Not surprisingly, some people expressed their outrage on talkbacks to the few media accounts, while others expressed their own personal versions of anti-Semitism masquerading as “level-headedness” or annoyance with those who complained.
But all the accounts pointed to an apology issued by LivingSocial, and left it at that.
Here’s the apology, dated October 30:
Poor judgment was exhibited this past Saturday when religious holiday symbols were associated in a degrading manner during a Halloween event located at our 918 F Street venue.
This insensitivity was offensive and inconsistent with our values as a company. Let me make this perfectly clear – we do not condone prejudice, nor do we tolerate bigoted or hurtful behavior of any sort. What happened at the event was an embarrassment to us as a company and we are deeply apologetic. We are offering a full refund to anyone who attended the event. Customers who attended the event and wish to be refunded can call our customer service department directly and they will be reimbursed immediately.
We know we let you down. We promise to make it up to you, and demonstrate that LivingSocial is better than this, now, and every day forward.
Tim O’Shaughnessy CEO and Cofounder
Here’s the problem with the apology. Actually, there are several.
APOLOGY HIDDEN ON THE WEBSITE
First, it is almost impossible to find the apology. You can’t find it on the homepage of the LivingSocial website, and you can’t find it by clicking on any of the links on the top of the site. It is only posted on the LivingSocial blog. And you can only find that by scrolling way past all the “deals.” Then, at the very bottom, you have to keep going through the remainder of the categories and at the bottom of the second column, click “blog.”
PASSIVE AND INCONSISTENT APOLOGY: THE COMPANY DID TOLERATE ITS OWN ‘BIGOTED’ AND ‘HURTFUL BEHAVIOR’
But second, and more importantly, the statement of LivingSocial’s CEO doesn’t ring true.
If using the unnamed “religious symbols” in a degrading manner – as O’Shaugnessy admitted “happened” at the LivingSocial’s Oct. 26 Halloween party – is “inconsistent with [LivingSocial's] values,” and was “an embarrassment to [LivingSocial] for which [they] are deeply apologetic,” then how did it happen? It isn’t as if a different company, at a non LivingSocial site used dreidels as a symbol of greed – It was a LivingSocial event at a LivingSocial space.
And why did it take several days and some media attention before the Oct. 30 apology was issued?
Despite the distancing language employed by O’Shaughnessy in the apology attributed to him, “what happened at the event,” when “religious holiday symbols were associated” was not something that just spontaneously occurred. Someone – someone affiliated with LivingSocial – did it.
A LivingSocial employee or agent purchased the dreidels and placed them in the “Greed Room.” And that was at an event to which LivingSocial invited the public, and at which LivingSocial employees and/or agents were present. No one from LivingSocial had any problem linking a Jewish symbol with the sin of greed until some outsider made a fuss about it.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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