Jewish community relations organizations in New Jersey took part in a successful national campaign protesting a series of pro-Palestinian ads set to run on public buses in Seattle.
The ads, sponsored by a group called the Mideast Awareness Campaign, depicted children and demolished buildings and read, “Israeli War Crimes. Your Tax Dollars at Work.”
Following protests spearheaded by the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, Seattle’s transportation system denied bus space to the ads, saying they could potentially trigger violent responses.
As part of the StandWithUs effort, an alert written by Melanie Roth Gorelick, associate director of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest, urged recipients to send letters of protest to transit system officials in King County, Wash.
The message, which went to members of the regional body that includes the MetroWest CRC and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council, said that such anti-Israel attack ads “demonize and draw people apart. They distort reality. They are the tools of a party to conflict. They are not tools of peace or reconciliation. This is not what Israelis or Palestinians need.”
Neither the CRCs nor StandWithUs sought to have the anti-Israel ads suppressed.
“We were never trying to stifle free speech,” said Avi Posnick, regional coordinator of StandWithUs in Manhattan. “We were trying to expose the misinformation of what these ads had to say and how that would divide the community and how it could disrupt bus service. We were never trying to say, ‘They have no right to do this.’”
Later, in an e-mail “clarification,” Posnick wrote that the pro-Palestinians ads “violated the existing Metro transit advertising rules [which] prohibit material that may incite violence or vandalism against any particular group (paraphrased).”
Added Posnick: “We pointed out that an ad designed to get people to hate Israel (‘Israeli War Crimes’) could be enough to incite an unbalanced person to attack Jews or Jewish institutions, just as Naveed Haq attacked the Jewish Federation in Seattle four years ago (killing one and injuring five), angry at Jews and Israel. Furthermore, the First Amendment protects one’s right to say something and prohibits the government from restricting that ability, but it never guarantees that any particular communication medium must carry the message.”
Joy Kurland, director of the regional CRC, told NJJN, “We followed exactly what was requested from StandWithUs. There was no difference in our campaigns. We basically want to support what they are doing in the interest of acting in a concerted way.”
King County officials halted the ads four days before they were set to appear.
Posnick said a coalition of Palestinian supporters now has similar anti-Israel ads in three San Francisco bus stations that say that U.S. tax dollars should not support “war crimes.”
StandWithUs has prepared to respond with a set of print ads in San Francisco that will read: “Say No to Palestinian War Crimes” and “Say Yes to Peace.” The counter-ads are scheduled to begin appearing later this week.
“This is going to be kind of a constant happening,” predicted Kurland. “It is unfortunately what we have to deal with in the attempt to delegitimize Israel, and we will become involved in this in whatever way we can.”