Pope Francis was pictured locking lips with Israeli president Shimon Peres this weekend – in an image reminiscent of an advertising campaign that succeeded in enraging the Vatican and prompting it to bring legal action three years ago.
Peres was joined by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican where the pair prayed with the pontiff in the name of rekindling the Middle East peace process.
The image of Pope Francis and Peres embracing called to mind a United Colours of Benetton campaign in 2011 which showed a number of world leaders kissing.
Pope Francis embraces Shimon Peres at the Vatican this weekend
The Photoshopped images saw US President Barack Obama kissing his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez and China's Hu Jintao, Abbas embracing Benjamin Netanyahu, Germany’s Angela Merkel smooching Nicholas Sarkozy and then-Pope Benedict XVI nuzzling up to Muslim leader Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand sheikh of al-Azhar mosque in Cairo.
Executive deputy chairman Alessandro Bennetton was quoted at the time as saying: “The images are very strong, but we have to send a strong message. We are not wanting to be disrespectful of the leaders… we consider them the ‘conception figures’ making a statement of brotherhood with a kiss.”
But while the campaign attempted to preach tolerance, the Vatican was less than impressed, issuing strong condemnation and launching legal proceedings to prevent its wider use.
Benetton was forced to pull the poster of then-Pope Benedict XVI kissing Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb
Press secretary Father Federico Lombardi said: "We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends.
"It is a serious lack of respect for the pope, an affront to the feelings of the faithful and an evident demonstration of how, in the field of advertising, the most elemental rules of respect for others can be broken in order to attract attention by provocation."
Benetton hastily withdrew the poster and issued an apology.
A spokesman said: “We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms.
“We are therefore sorry that the use of the image of the pope and the imam has so offended the sentiments of the faithful.”
President Obama’s team wasn’t won over either. "The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told The Huffington Post.
Benetton is known for its controversial ads, including one of a young nun kissing a priest.
A further poster from the same Unhate campaign showing Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had to be scrapped after the controversial leader resigned.