The billboard wars continue at Metro North train stations where now a third group has launched a campaign. The controversy began in July when an anti-Israel group named the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine (COPIP) posted anti-Israel billboards at Westchester train stations. The posters contended that Israel had taken Palestinian land and turned the Palestinians into refugees -- and some called them “grossly distorted” and “misleading.” To counter the COPIP campaign, Stand With Us launched their own campaign, defending Israel and pointing the finger at the Palestinians for refusing to accept compromises for peace.
Now the American Freedom Defense Initiative has entered the fray and inflamed those on both sides of the conflict. The new billboard, which is posted at the Scarsdale Train Station, reads, “*19,250 Deadly Islamic Attacks Since 9/11/01 *and counting. Not Islamophobia, It’s Islamorealism.”
John Harris, a Scarsdale resident and Chair of the N.Y. Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League said, “It’s unfortunate that some people are trying to reduce the difficult issues in the Middle East to slogans on billboards. The latest Westchester ads by American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group headed by the anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, are offensive and inflammatory. Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean being anti-Muslim and anti-Arab. Suspecting a “jihadist” motivation by everyone who follows Islam contributes to an atmosphere where hatred and discrimination are easily justified. Geller has a First Amendment right to spread her views, but she does Israel no service by her bigoted attacks on all Islam. The ADL hopes that our Muslim neighbors recognize that Geller’s campaign reflects the thinking of a very small minority in the Jewish community and trust that they also understand, as do we, the dangers posed by extremists in all of our faiths.”
Last year the American Freedom Defense Initiative proposed posting an ad on city buses that read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” and then between two Stars of David had the words, “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The MTA rejected the ad on the basis that it violated its prohibition on messages that demean individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or other characteristics.
However, last week U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled that the ad was political speech as it expressed a pro-Israel perspective, and as such was protected under the First Amendment.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) objected to the advertisement from the anti-Muslim group as “highly offensive and inflammatory,” but said it agreed with a federal judge’s finding that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was wrong in rejecting it.
“We support the court’s conclusion that the ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, yet we still strongly object to both the message and the messenger,” said Ron Meier, ADL New York Regional Director. “We believe these ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. It is possible to support Israel without engaging in bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.”
More information on Geller can be found here: