New ad on Muni buses in S.F. has disturbing imagery, calls Israel an apartheid state

In the latest installment of the bus ad wars, a national Muslim group has sponsored an advertisement currently on Muni buses in San Francisco that refers to Israel as an apartheid state.

The ad, paid for by American Muslims for Palestine, reads: “Americans give Israel $3 billion per year! End apartheid now! Stop U.S. aid to Israel.” It also includes a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu that compares the situation in the Holy Land to apartheid in South Africa.

The ad’s imagery is of two concrete walls and guard turrets, reminiscent of a prison yard, with silhouettes of a soldier (presumed to be Israeli) sticking the barrel of his rifle directly into the chest of a cowering child.

Jewish groups have condemned the ad, with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, the American Jewish Committee and the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League releasing a joint statement calling it “misleading” and “morally reprehensible.”

“The term ‘apartheid’ describes the systematic oppression of the racial majority population by South Africa’s minority through comprehensive racial discrimination,” the statement noted. “In sharp contrast … Israel is a diverse democratic country that affords equal political and civil rights to all its citizens.”

In response to the statement, Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace wrote a blog entry positing that “high-ranking Israelis” have used the term “apartheid” to describe circumstances in the region. However, several quotes she cited predict apartheid-like conditions only if the two-state solution falters.

“We’re not asking for the ads to come down,” said Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the JCRC. “We stand by the Jewish community’s long tradition of supporting free speech. At the same time we believe the use of the word ‘apartheid’ is incendiary, hateful and extremist rhetoric.”

This is not the first time bus ads have ruffled feathers. Last summer, a coalition led by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative bought ads that read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

The ADL and JCRC condemned those ads, calling them Islamophobic. They and other groups successfully persuaded the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to donate proceeds from the ads to the city’s Human Rights Commission.

Porth said JCRC has asked MTA to do the same thing with the current anti-Israel ads. As of press time, MTA had not responded. — dan pine