In the latest round of the political ad smack-downs between Middle East advocacy groups vying for turf on the sides of King County Metro transit buses, two are once again battling it out in a war of words.
In 2010, after a torrent of public outrage, Metro Transit removed a bus ad purchased by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign decrying U.S. spending that supports “Israeli war crimes.” A U.S. District judge upheld the ban, agreeing it was disruptive to bus service and it threatened the public peace. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently reviewing that ruling.
“The ACLU is representing SeaMAC in the lawsuit against King County Metro for censoring our ad in 2010,” SeaMAC spokesperson Ed Mast told JTNews.
That SeaMAC ad, and others, which included messages such as “Nakba: The ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine” caught the attention of the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, which appears to have become SeaMAC’s most relentless would-be adversary.
One of its latest counter-ads, which claims Palestinian leadership is really calling for a “Jew-free state” went on six Bellevue-based buses last month for four weeks.
Mast rejected these assertions outright and said that any sources the AFDI claims as evidence are simply wrong.
“We’ve looked and we don’t find them, so they appear to be part of the fabrication,” Mast said. “In particular, we find no sources that make the alleged statement on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Palestinian Authority policy has been the opposite: A Palestinian state would be open to all ethnic groups and religions.”
On Tuesday, however, while speaking in Egypt, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters that “in a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.”
Leading the charge is AFDI’s president, Pamela Geller, an author, speaker, internationally syndicated columnist, and an outspoken critic of honor killings in the Middle East who exposes the suppression of free speech in Islam in the U.S. and Europe. She has received awards from the U.S. Marine Corps and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. But Geller is also a polarizing figure. AFDI and other organizations she has founded have been condemned by organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center for purportedly anti-Muslim statements.
Geller told JTNews she spent a lot of time proving the veracity of her ads to Metro Transit, whose 2012 revised ad policy is to reject any ad with “any material that is or that the sponsor reasonably knows is false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, or would constitute a tort of defamation or invasion of privacy.”
“I sent [my sources] to Seattle transit and published them on my website, AtlasShrugs.com,” Geller said. “They were sent June 11, 2013. The back and forth went on for weeks.”
“We requested documentation to support her statement included in the ad and she provided it. The ad is running,” said Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer. “She complied with the advertising policy that we have. I can’t respond to her characterization.”
Switzer did say Metro gave the additional scrutiny to the AFDI ad because “the AFDI ad made an additional claim which said that the Palestinian Authority wanted a Jew-free state.”
Another AFDI ad, which calls for “Equal rights for Jews,” was a direct strike at a recent SeaMAC ad that Geller said she just couldn’t ignore.
“My ads are a response to earlier anti-Israel bus ads calling for equal rights for Palestinians in Israel, which they already enjoy,” Geller said. “When they put lies on bus ads, I will continue to counter with the truth.”
SeaMAC says its strategy is to use what it calls direct education “to discuss how U.S. support for Israel enables Israel’s continued oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people.”
Rob Jacobs, regional director of StandWithUs Northwest, a pro-Israel advocacy group in Seattle, told JTNews his organization wishes none of the ads were running because it reduces what should be an important debate to slogans and one-liners.
“The ads by the anti-Israel group, SeaMAC, that claimed Israeli war crimes or that implies that Israeli Arabs do not have equal civil rights under law are just plain false,” said Jacobs. “And it’s wrong that Metro initially accepted the war crimes ad without asking for proof that the claim was true.”
But Jacobs added that AFDI’s assertions are “supported by the claims made by Palestinian Authority President Abbas and numerous senior members of his government over at least the past three years.”
StandWithUs is planning what Jacobs called a “positive” ad campaign of its own about Israel, which is set to debut on the insides of Metro buses.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle posted its own statement on its website that expressed concern over only the AFDI ads. Federation CEO Keith Dvorchik told JTNews he considers both sides’ ads to be divisive, especially in light of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that began this week.
“It ends up not helping in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t encourage dialogue, it doesn’t encourage community,” Dvorchik said. “The Federation works with Jews and Christians and Muslims about creating a better community for everybody, and that’s where we really need to be working.”
The local office of the American Jewish Committee, which advocates worldwide for Jews, Israel, and “human rights and democratic values,” issued its own statement saying that both groups’ ads are “unhelpful to the cause of peace and understanding in the Middle East.”
Wendy Rosen, the AJC Seattle regional director, wrote that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved on the side of a Metro bus in Seattle, Washington.”