Support for Israel should not be built on bigoted bus ads
Last week, the New York–based American Freedom Defense Initiative launched a four-week ad campaign, placing anti-Muslim posters on San Francisco Muni buses.
AFDI is a group headed by Pamela Geller, the anti-Muslim bigot who led the fight against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque in lower Manhattan two years ago.
The new bus posters’ offensive text reads: ”In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
How offensive? Let us count the ways, starting with the ridiculous 19th-century language (“civilized man”) that conjures up images of pith helmets, rajas and jewels in the crown. The weird use of the word “man” similarly betrays the sponsor’s outdated — and sexist — worldview.
Then there’s that word “savage.”
To call Israel’s enemies savages is to lump all Muslims into one jihadist camp. It is to assign collective blame, the kind of charge Jews have unfairly faced for centuries. This is unacceptable.
While the Jewish community supports Israel and condemns militant Islam, any right-thinking person, Jewish or not, must oppose these ads.
In fact, major Jewish organizations in the Bay Area quickly blasted them.
The Anti-Defamation League “strongly objected to this message of intolerance,” and called the ads “highly offensive and inflammatory.” The Jewish Community Relations Council, together with the American Jewish Committee, released a statement ripping the ads’ “anti-Muslim” language. Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC executive director, told j. he had received calls from Muslim leaders, thanking him for his swift response.
In a statement Aug. 14, Tom Nolan, board chairman of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, criticized the ads as “having no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice.” He said Muni will donate proceeds from the ads to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.
Muni is allowing the ad campaign to stay up, perhaps to avoid a federal lawsuit, such as New York City’s transit authority faced earlier this year, when Geller won the right to place the same posters on New York buses.
So this ad campaign will run its course and then disappear. We hope the strong condemnation from the Jewish community will remind the world at large that just as we fight to defend Israel’s right to safety and security, so do we fight to protect all people from bigotry and intolerance.
Hate group places Islamophobic advertisements on San Francisco buses
The ad states, “In any war betwen the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel … Defeat jihad.”
Sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initative (AFDI), which has been defined as a hate group, the ads have drawn outrage from civil rights, human rights and legal advocates and activists in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as citizens who have called San Francisco’s transportation authority and signed a petition demanding to take the ads down.
Mondoweiss assembled some important reactions in the media to the ads, including an interview on KQED (the Bay Area’s NPR affiliate) with Pamela Geller, who said that “if San Francisco had denied my ad, I would have filed a lawsuit in San Francisco.”
Additionally, a brief post on Geller’s Islamophobic ad campaign appeared on Gawker. Gawker’s Cord Jefferson wrote:
Last month, a federal judge ruled that New York’s MTA had violated the AFDI’s First Amendment rights by rejecting the group’s ads for city bus placement. That decision prompted the Muni in San Francisco to accept the ads, despite the fact that it has a policy against political advertising. Because what’s political about a Jewish organization putting out a bus ad that tacitly calls Palestinians subhuman savages?
Following the outrage about these inciteful advertisements — which were put up during a time when Arabs, Muslims and other persons of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent are being targeted, their places of worship attacked, shot, killed, and pursued by white supremacist groups, members of Congress, and government agencies in this country — several Bay Area-based civil rights groups sent out a press release earlier today saying they will begin to measure the impact of the ads on the Arab and Muslim community. For their part, the San Francisco municipal transportation agency agreed that the ads “have no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice,” and stated that the advertising revenue would be directed to the SF Human Rights Commission.
The press release reads, in full:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Today, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) cautiously welcomed a response issued by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in response to anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic advertisements running on San Francisco buses. The groups have been working on a community assessment and response to the ads since complaints of them were first received last week.
The ad, sponsored by a group calling itself The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), led by Pamela Geller, states: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man.” It further states, “Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.” AFDI has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“While the community respects the importance of free expression even for offensive speech, it is clear that these ads were designed specifically to intimidate Muslim, Arab and Palestinian members of the San Francisco community,” said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo.
In the statement issued yesterday, the Chairman of the SFMTA Board of Directors and SFMTA Director of Transportation on Advertisement acknowledged that although the First Amendment prevented them from removing the advertisements from public buses, they have “no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice.” Further, the statement went on to commit to directing all resulting advertising revenue to the SF Human Rights Commission (HRC).
ALC, AMP, CAIR-SFBA and JVP will be concluding a week-long community assessment this Friday, and plan to work with the HRC to develop requests of SFMTA that will properly reflect the level of community concern as well as solutions for remedying the harmful impact of these advertisements.
AMP Chair Dr. Hatem Bazian stated: “since the message of this advertisement foments the hostile climate towards Arabs and Muslims, especially during a two week time period that has seen more than eight attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions, it is important that all responses directly address Islamophobia and not merely diversity generally.”