This letter, drafted by Howard Gale of Seattle and signed by 42 other members of Seattle’s Jewish community, was presented to King County Executive Dow Constantine on Jan. 10 protesting the county’s decision to cancel advertisements critical of Israel that would have run on the side of 12 Metro buses. The letter and meetings with the executive did not affect the decision.
Dear Mr. Constantine,
We are members of the Seattle Jewish community who have joined together to urge you to reconsider your decision to prevent the “Israeli War Crimes – Your Tax Dollars at Work” ads from being placed on Metro buses. Your statement that if the ads run there would be “an unacceptable risk of harm to or disruption of service” has baffled and alarmed us. We don’t understand the rationale for your claims of harm and disruption, and we are alarmed by the sudden abrogation of the contract for the ads. This sets a dangerous precedent that baseless threats and bullying can, in the absence of principled arguments, set public policy.
We believe that a public airing of grievances is a requirement for a democracy to function. It leads to people feeling engaged and respected, thereby lowering, not raising, tensions and anger. It is when speech and facts are suppressed that people feel isolated and ignored. In this context your decision concerning the bus ads appears counter-productive to attaining your stated goals.
Your claims that these ads might prove disruptive or costly to King County are particularly ironic in light of our county’s history. It took over 20 years to change the logo of King County from a crown to the face of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., over the repeated objections as to the cost and “disruptions” such a change would entail. We believe that as King County Executive it is your duty to do what is right and principled, not just what avoids “disruptions.”
It is necessary to clarify what the bus ads are not. Since the ads state evidence-based claims (see below) they cannot, in and of themselves, be considered anti-Israeli (anymore than criticism of US policy is anti-American). Indeed, as outlined below, numerous Israeli organizations have made the same claims as regards war crimes. It certainly goes beyond reasonable discourse to label such ads as anything approximating “hate speech.”
The claim of “Israeli War Crimes – Your Tax Dollars at Work” is evidence-based and is therefore far from being inherently inflammatory or inaccurate since:
1. Every internationally recognized non-governmental human rights organization (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Human Rights Council) that has investigated the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza has come to the conclusion that there is abundant evidence of war crimes committed by Israel. So too have all the major Israeli human rights organizations (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights — Israel, and others). In fact, the most complete investigation to date (the 452-page September 2009 report from the UN Fact Finding Mission headed by the noted international Justice Richard Goldstone) goes further, stating that “From the facts available to it, the Mission is of the view that some of the actions of the Government of Israel might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed.”
2. The US provides Israel with F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, white phosphorus shells, GBU-39 guided bombs, controversial DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) shells, and a variety of other armaments at US taxpayer expense. Many of these armaments were used in the commission of war crimes (noted above).
Several organizations in the Seattle area (the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, along with the Seattle/Northwest chapters of the national groups the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, and the American Jewish Committee) have exploited the fears of anti-Semitism and victimization to advance a very narrow agenda that has nothing to do with the safety and protection of the Jewish people and culture, but instead serves only to protect Israeli policies and practices that have denied basic human rights to Palestinians. These organizations do not speak for us, and in fact violate the long-standing Jewish traditions we hold most sacred, traditions that have guided us in our lives and careers: the values of justice and liberation. Labeling the bus ads as “anti-Israel,” “anti-Jewish,” or “hate speech” is an offensive tactic which should never be encouraged, and certainly not supported by echoing those claims or acting upon them.
The bus ads are not about singling out Israel, but rather about taking responsibility for our government enabling Israeli human rights abuses, through the supply of money, arms, and diplomatic cover. Indeed, Amnesty International has called for the international community to “act immediately” at the level of individual states “to suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions, as well as those which may be diverted, to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” (AI, July 2009 report).
In 2003, and again in 2005, ads were placed on Metro buses that protested the Iraq war. In the 2005 ads there was a graphic picture of an Iraqi child severely injured by an American cluster bomb. There were people who labeled those bus ads as anti-American, yet Metro ran those ads without incident. If we can question the use of US armaments by Americans, why can we not question the use of US armaments by the Israelis?
Finally, we note that if there are fears that ads addressing Palestinian war crimes, proposed by other organizations, might incite hatred or violence, then you should consider those ads on a case-by-case basis according to long-standing policy. It violates the most basic conditions for free speech to allow one person’s speech to suppress another’s.
We therefore request that you, as King County Executive, act in a manner consistent with supporting free speech, the legacy of the man King County is named for, and the highest ideals of Jewish culture: allow the bus ads to run, thereby allowing the public to question the human rights abuses committed in our name and with our tax dollars.
Paul Loeb, author, Seattle
Philip L. Bereano, Professor Emeritus, UW; King County Council Recognition/Award (1994), Seattle
Paul Bigman, Treas., WA Sate Jobs with Justice; Business Rep., Local 15, IATSE; 36th Dist Democrats PCO, Seattle
Shelly F. Cohen, member Temple Beth Am, Seattle
Dmitri Iglitzin, Attorney at Law, Seattle
Neil Fox, Attorney at Law, Seattle
Connie Burk, Senior VP, Kol HaNeshamah Synagogue; author, Seattle
Evan Kanter, MD, Phd., UW School of Med.; Board of Dir. WA Physicians for Social Responsibility, Seattle
Margaret Hobart, Kol HaNeshamah Synagogue, Seattle
Phil Shack, 46th Dist. Democrats PCO; Chair N. Dist. Council; Vice Chair City Neighborhood Council, Seattle
Alan Greenbaum, Nurse Practitioner, Seattle
Howard J. Gale, PhD., Psychologist, Seattle
David-Israel Sandler, Seattle
Peter Lippman, Seattle
Roger Lippman, Seattle
Rae Levine, Seattle
Barbara Laslett, Prof. of Socology Ameritae, Univ. of Minnesota, Seattle
Joan Sandler, VP, Local 76-493, American Federation of Musicians, Seattle
Rita Shaw, retired railroad worker, member of International Assoc. of Machinists, Seattle
Esther Wolf, 36th District Democrats, Seattle
Brian King, Seattle
Paula King, Seattle
Eric Mandel, Seattle
Wendy E. Smith, Seattle
Peter Henry, Seattle high school teacher, Edmonds
Susan Segall, Regional Director, American Friends Service Committee, Seattle
Wendy Somerson, Seattle Jewish Voice for Peace, Seattle
Bert Sacks, Seattle
Craig Brooke-Weiss, ABR, GRI, SRES, Seattle
Robert J. Siegel, Attorney at Law; Real Change Advisory Board; Legal Dir., Center For Social Justice, Seattle
Judith Kolokoff, Jewish Voice for Peace; American Jews for a Just Peace, Seattle
Janet Stecher, AFM Local 76-493 & 1000, North Seattle
Marc Krasnowsky, North Bend
Toby Thaler, PCO 36-1338, 36th District Democrats, KCDCC Representative, Seattle
Henry Gordon, Seattle
Harry Levine, Seattle
Susan Lewis Graham, Member AFM Local 1000, Seattle
Danica Bornstein, Clinical Social Worker; Bnei Mitzvah Instructor; Member, Kol HaNeshamah, Seattle
Bill Aal, Seattle
Alison Goodman, Seattl
Martha Baskin, Seattle
Meg Savlov, Seattle
David Schach, Principal Software Developer Microsoft; Jewish Voice for Peace (Seattle), Redmond