Benetton Unhate
Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez. Benetton

It seems a lot of powerful people hate Benetton's new 'Unhate' Campaign ads. The recently unveiled images show world leaders like the Pope and U.S. President Barack Obama kissing their perceived enemies.

On Thursday, the White House issued a statement condemning Benetton for its provocative campaign.

The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes, said White House Spokesman Eric Schultz.

The Unhate campaign for the Italian clothing brand showed Obama lip-locked with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a vocal Washington enemy.

The Obama kissing Jintao ad is scheduled to appear next week in issues of Newsweek, New York magazine and The Economist, according Benetton spokesman Luca Biondolillo.

This isn't the first time a company's come under fire for using the president's image. Last year, The Weatherproof Garment Co. installed a billboard ad in New York's Times Square showing Obama wearing one of its coats.

The billboard was short-lived and subsequently removed from the iconic square.

The controversial new Benetton campaign depicts several other pairs smooching, like the leaders of North and South Korea and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Yet, the most controversial image depicts Pope Benedict kissing a male imam.

Al-Azhar suspended interfaith talks with the Vatican earlier this year after Benedict called for greater protections for Egypt's minority Christians.

On Wednesday, Benetton pulled the ad featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam on the lips after the Vatican denounced it as an unacceptable provocation.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, called the ad an unacceptable and offensive manipulation of the Pope's likeness.

On Thursday, Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, had this to say in a news release:

The damage that Benetton did is done - the offensive photo of the Holy Father and the imam is posted on the Internet. Benetton has a history of not only being edgy, but of being anti-Catholic and vulgar: in 1995, its magazine Colors featured Christmas holiday ads promoting such gifts as a bull's testicles and a metal instrument used to abort unborn children. The Catholic League quickly condemned Benetton at the time.

Benetton gets no points for withdrawing the pope-imam ad. It knew what it was doing, and we know from past experience what its intent was. What is particularly striking about all this is that the ad campaign was launched to promote tolerance. Guess its hatred of Catholicism is so strong that even appeals to tolerance cannot stop it from fostering intolerance.

Though it was forced to remove the ad, Benetton reiterated that its Unhate campaign was aimed at fostering tolerance and global love.

According to Benetton, the ads were symbolic of images of reconciliation - with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation - to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.

The images were unfurled midweek in Milan, New York, Paris, Tel Aviv and Rome.

Benetton is no stranger to shock advertising. Past campaigns featured death row inmates and dying AIDS victims.

Benetton is famous for using socially-conscious messages to sell its products, and the timing could not be more appropriate with the Occupy Movement gaining fervor across the globe.

The campaign shows that we need to have courage to not hate others, said Alessandro Benetton, executive deputy chairman of Benetton, and son of the Italian-based company's founder, Luciano.

The Unhate campaign draws from a famous painting on the Berlin Wall depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing his East German counterpart Erich Honecker.

What do you think of Benetton's Unhate ad campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments below.