Jewish groups in San Francisco have blasted posters on Muni buses that refer to Israel’s enemies as savages.
The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League issued statements condemning the ads on Aug. 14.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group headed by conservative New York–based activist-blogger Pamela Geller, sponsored the four-week Muni ad campaign that began Aug. 7 on 10 buses. The poster reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
In a press release, the JCRC and AJC, noting that they were speaking on behalf of the organized Jewish community, condemned the ads as “inflammatory and anti-Muslim,” adding, “We are steadfast in our support of Israel and our concern about the growing threat of Islamic radicalism and steadfast in our opposition to anti-Muslim stereotypes.”
The ADL issued a press release calling the advertisement “highly offensive and inflammatory,” but added “it is clearly protected political speech under the First Amendment.” The release added: “Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. And support for Israel is not built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.”
Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC executive director, told j. he received messages from the local Muslim community “expressing gratitude” for the solidarity shown by the organized Jewish community.
Earlier this year, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority had refused to put the same posters on its buses, but ultimately did so after Geller took the agency to federal court and won. That opened the door for Geller’s group to place the ads on Muni.
Geller, who is often critical of Islam and Muslim causes, told KQED News Fix that she had been waiting for approval from Muni for months, and that she bought the ads to “counter” the message of advertising that calls for ending U.S. aid to Israel.
She explained to KQED why she chose the word “savage” by saying “because any targeting of innocent civilians is savagery. Mothers and children on a bus are targeted, and that is savagery. Kidnapping and murdering is savagery. The U.S. does not conduct war that way, and neither does Israel. Now, there is sometimes the accidental death of civilians, which is far different than the targeting of innocent civilians.”
The board chairman, Tom Nolan, and director of transportation, Ed Reiskin, for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, issued a statement Aug. 14, saying “Going forward, we will review our policies with regards to ads on the Muni system.”
The release noted that “while we honor a person’s right to self-expression, there are times when we must say ‘enough.’ The recent ad has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice. While this ad is protected under the First Amendment, our ad policy and our contractual obligations, we condemn the use of any language that belittles, demeans or disparages others.”
The release also noted that the SFMTA will donate its proceeds from this advertisement to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.