The comic strip by Johnny Hart shows several panels in which the seven last words of Jesus Christ appear above a lit seven-branch menorah. In the next-to-last frame, the words "It is finished" appear above the menorah's last remaining flame. By the last frame, all seven candles on the menorah have been extinguished, and the menorah has become a cross.
The groups say the cartoon advocates "Replacement Theology" -- the idea that Christianity has supplanted Judaism.
"This is insensitive and offensive because what it proclaims is that Judaism is finished and Christianity has taken over," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Religion News Service. "The timing makes it that much more insensitive and offensive."
Hart "has a right to claim what he believes, but not to offend other people's faiths, beliefs and traditions," Foxman said.
"Mr. Hart and anybody else is entitled to advocate their views, but the newspaper is a public forum," he said. "People read the newspaper to read news and sports and comics and therefore the standards of sensitivity should be a lot higher."
The American Jewish Committee said the cartoon was shameful.
"Whatever the cartoonist's personal beliefs, the sudden insertion of religiously offensive cartoons into the comics section of Sunday newspapers is highly inappropriate and abuses readers, especially young children, who turn to `B.C.' every week," the group said in a statement. "Appearing in newspapers on the last day of Passover and Easter Sunday makes this form of religious exploitation all the more shameful."
The Jewish Defense League is asking supporters to contact newspapers that publish the comic strip to "appeal to the editor not to allow this insult to be printed" on Sunday (April 15).
"We find nothing funny about Johnny Hart's text and artwork," reads a statement from the group's Web site. "In fact, we find it highly crude, insulting and an example of outright Jew-hatred."
But Hart, an evangelical Christian, told the Washington Times he only intended to "pay tribute" to Jews and Christians.
"I sincerely apologize if I have offended any readers, and I also sincerely hope that this cartoon will generate increased interest in religious awareness," he said.