Similar billboards have been posted at a total of ten Metro North stations.
The billboards were paid for by Henry Clifford, an 83-year-old anti-Israel activist based in Essex, Connecticut. Clifford is the head of a small anti-Israel group named the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine (also referred to as COPIP). COPIP is a member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which is a bigger anti-Israel coalition operating out of Washington, D.C. Clifford has also expressed his pro-Palestine beliefs in “letters to the editor” to several newspapers and news websites. COPIP also backed a divestment campaign targeting TIAA-CREF for investing in companies that allegedly help Israel maintain the occupation.
Fox News turned up at the Scarsdale station on Thursday morning, and here is a clip of their report :
Community members were quick to react to the placement of the billboards in their midst.
Rabbi Jonathan E. Blake, Senior Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple said, “The images in these ads grossly distort the facts and utterly disregard the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are apt only to inflame passions and exacerbate tensions rather than work toward a just and mutually negotiated two-state solution. What we need now is less one-sided rhetoric and more real dialogue about the hard compromises and powerful opportunities that could bring peaceful coexistence to Israelis and Palestinians.”
Rabbi Shira Milgrom of Congregation Kol Ami added, "The central issue is not whether we are pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. Hopefully, we are both. Seeking a just and peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East means being both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, in other words, pro-peace. Pro-Peace means that each people has rights to sovereignty and self-determination. One-sided, misleading and distorted propaganda does not serve the interests of peace."
John Harris, a Scarsdale resident and Chair of the N.Y. Chapter of the AntiDefamation League, called the billboards, “misleading and biased, falsely suggesting that Israel has pursued a campaign to deprive Palestinians of their land and to make them refugees. These ads ignore the reality that the Palestinians did not own the land prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, that Israel has repeatedly tried to exchange land for peace only to be rebuffed by Palestinian leaders, and that a succession of Israeli governments has been committed to achieving a two-state solution with the Palestinians. This campaign is only the latest attempt by the proponents of these ads to delegitimize Israel.”
Rhonda, the commuter who alerted Scarsdale10583 to the new campaign said, “This is a scary, manipulative smear campaign against Israel and a very inaccurate portrayal of Israel. It accuses Israel of taking land from the Palestinians in a series of 4 generic, incorrect maps. This is sponsored by a "Committee for Peace"? There is absolutely nothing peaceful about this billboard. These billboards are in targeted Metro-North stations and are meant to incite and anger. Who is paying for and allowing these billboards? Why is this message on a CBS billboard? This is totally unacceptable.”
In a position paper from the AntiDefamation League, they point out that the situation is complex and cannot be summarized on the maps. According to the ADL, the maps fail to reflect several key facts:
Prior to 1948, much of the land was owned by non-Palestinian absentee landlords who lived in Beirut, Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad.
Israel has made repeated efforts to exchange land for peace, such as the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, which led Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula; the full disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which gave control of the territory to the Palestinian leadership, and other Israeli pull-backs from the West Bank that granted administrative control of a number of cities to the Palestinian Authority.
The commitment of successive Israeli governments to achieving a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and an expressed desire to engage in land swaps of major settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of a final status agreement. This commitment by Israel has been met by repeated failures on the part of the Palestinian leadership to seriously engage with Israel in peace talks.
Israel maintains that since the Palestinian refugees are the result of a war forced upon Israel by invading Arab armies, it is not responsible for the current plight of the refugees. However, Israel has stated that, on humanitarian grounds, it would participate in an international effort to resolve the situation, including helping refugees settle in an established state of Palestine, contributing to an international refugee compensation fund and considering individual cases of family reunification for refugees with Israeli relatives.
The placement of the billboards is very timely as on Monday July 9, 2012, a commission of jurists appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel's presence in the West Bank was not occupation under international conventions and recommended state approval of some of the unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts. The commission's report added new fuel to the ongoing major controversy that has been going on for decades about the legality of Jewish settlements and complicated the already faltering efforts to forge an overall Israeli-Palestinian agreement.