If you are out and about in San Francisco, you may have noticed ads on the sides of Muni buses that refer to Israel's enemies as "savages." The ads are raising questions about the kind of advertising public agencies can accept.
The ads read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."
The ad has offended some San Franciscans, who have expressed their reactions on Twitter. For example:
— volksmenner (@volksmenner) August 11, 2012
Pamela Geller, who purchased the ads, had been waiting for approval from Muni for months, she tells KQED's Aarti Shahani. She says approval came the same day a federal judge ruled that New York City violated Geller's free speech rights by refusing an identical campaign there.
Geller said she bought the ads in response to advertising that called for ending U.S. aid to Israel. "I wanted to counter that message," she said.
Why the word "savage?"
Here's Geller's explanation:
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 ads are scheduled to run through the end of the month. But some people would like to stop them sooner.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is supporting a petition to stop the ads. CAIR's San Francisco executive director told Aarti Shahani that she would like Muni to formulate a policy prohibiting hate speech:
We're hearing from members of the community, both Arabs and Muslims and otherwise, like interfaith and civil rights alike, saying, 'We don't feel comfortable boarding buses that label an entire community savage.'
Manhattan district judge Paul A. Engelmayer's decision to allow the ads in New York does not end the possibility of banning such ads, Shahani says, because Engelmayer did not say all such ads must automatically be allowed. Instead he ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's policy was unconstitutional because it appeared to ban speech that impugned some groups and not others.
According to the New York Times:
(H)e even offered examples, like “Southerners are bigots,” “Upper West Siders are elitist snobs,” “Fat people are slobs,” “Blondes are bimbos” and “Lawyers are sleazebags.”
Aarti says the MTC is appealing Engelmayer's decision.
Update at 4:10 p.m: Muni spokesman Paul Rose told Aarti the agency has gotten some complaints about the ad campaign, but that's not unusual. It has never removed ads before the contract to display them ended. Will this be a first?
We understand how this ad might be offensive, but we are limited in what we can do... We're exploring options in light of First Amendment issues, our ad policy and our contractual obligations.