Support for Israel should not be built on bigoted bus ads

The Bay Area’s Mideast ad wars have heated up again, and this time they have taken an unexpectedly ugly turn.

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 The weird use of the word “man” similarly betrays the sponsor’s outdated — and sexist — worldview.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.