Yesterday, anti-racist activists vandalized 10 outrageously offensive pro-Israel ads scattered throughout the NYC subway system. The 46x30-inch ads, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried unsuccessfuly to refuse, read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”Police wordlessly increased their presence in the 10 stations where the ads were posted, including busy stops such as Grand Central and Times Square. However, despite the heightened security, several of the posters were vandalized almost immediately. Activists covered the ads with stickers that read “HATE SPEECH” and “RACIST.” Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American writer and activist, sprayed pink paint on an ad at the Times Square subway station before being detained by police and charged with criminal mischief and graffiti-related crimes.
The ads are sponsored by the anti-Muslim group American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). With continued rioting in the Middle East over the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, some fear the subway ads could agitate an already tense situation. But AFDI founder and executive director Pamela Geller (who also headed a campaign opposing an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero) dismissed concerns that her ad could ignite protests, saying, “What are you going to do? Are you going to reward Islamic extremism? I will not sacrifice my freedom so as not to offend savages.”Monday, before the ads were posted, religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities rallied in New York to protest them. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority originally rejected the ads, but was forced to run them when federal judge Paul Engelmayer ruled last month that the posters were protected under the First Amendment. The ads are framed as pro-Israel, but how does the Jewish community in the U.S. feel about them? Most seem to condemn the ads. Jewish New Yorker Rebecca Klinger tells the New York Post that the ads are “contrary to Jewish teachings and Jewish philosophies… I find it appalling that anyone claim[ing] to be pro-Israel would suggest some human beings are savage and less than human. The Nazis tried to do the same thing to the Jews, to make them seem less than human.”Over at CNN, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster called the ads “deeply misguided and disturbing,” particularly in the midst of the religion’s High Holidays. She adds: It is also unfortunate that Geller chooses to frame her message of hatred as one of support for Israel. The complicated struggle for peace in the Middle East and against terrorism must not be reduced to a simplistic message of a war between good and evil. Although there is considerable debate within the Jewish community about how to best support Israel and achieve peace with her neighbors, it is clear that part of our contribution as Americans is to show the world that religious pluralism is both possible and beneficial for a thriving democracy.Despite the flurry of disapproval, Geller and her organization are continuing their anti-Islam campaign. The AFDI already has similar ads posted in San Francisco and has filed suit to force the Washington, D.C., transit system to run them.