Anti-Israel ad campaign set for Washington subway
By ANDY LEVY-AJZENKOPF
WASHINGTON, D.C. - area commuters will be inundated with a controversial poster-ad campaign when they take the city’s subway system next month.
Starting May 13 for four weeks, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has ordered 20 of its subway stations to place posters advertising a June 10 rally to end “Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”
Initiated by a charity called the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the 46-by-60-inch posters depict an imposing tank pointing its main firing turret at a child with a schoolbag walking along a dirt road.
“Imagine if this were your child’s path to school. Palestinians don’t have to imagine,” the poster states, before continuing to call for an end to U.S. aid for “Israel’s brutal military occupation… paid for by U.S. taxpayers like you.”
CBS Outdoor, the New York-based firm that places in-station advertising for WMATA, at first refused to consider the poster, but eventually relented to pressure from WMATA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
According to an April 4 report in the Washington Jewish Week online, the U.S. Campaign contacted the ACLU, which then advised WMATA to order CBS Outdoor to place the posters, citing freedom of speech rights.
Joanne Ferreira, a WMATA spokesperson, said, “We didn’t have any problem with the ad. It was a First Amendment issue.”
In the same report, Oren Segal, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League said, “If past events by this organization are any indication, it will make no attempt to present a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this ad is a pure reflection of that.”
Jodi Senese, CBS Outdoor’s executive vice-president in charge of marketing, explained to The CJN last week why she first turned away the poster.
“I initially rejected it on grounds that I thought it was too inflammatory to children,” she said over the phone from her Manhattan office.
Senese recalled that she told U.S. Campaign staff that if they wanted to raise awareness for their campaign, she was fine with it based on First Amendment rights, “but not like this,” she said.
The U.S. Campaign claims 250 member organizations in the United States. Its website features a prominent logo with the slogan, “Apartheid: Wrong for South Africans. Wrong for Palestinians.”
Senese, who is Jewish, indicated that though she was uneasy with the ad, her personal feelings were not a part of her initial decision to dismiss the ad.
“I’m very proud [of being a Jew],” Senese said. “I thought the image was inflammatory, but I also believe in our First Amendment rights. As Jews [in America], we thrive on that right as well.”
Senese indicated at the time of the interview, that to her knowledge no other group had yet come forward with a counter-campaign for CBS Outdoor to run.
Arthur Spitzer, who is Jewish and the legal director for the ACLU in the National Capital Area, told the Washington Jewish Week it wasn’t “a case about Judaism or Israel… but about establishing someone’s right to freedom of speech, which I agree with regardless of whether I agree with their particular political position.”
Jewish organizations in the D.C. area downplayed the seriousness of the upcoming campaign.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of Washington-based pro-Israel think-tank, the Israel Project, said her organization didn’t consider the ad campaign worth wasting resources to counter in the media and expected the ads to have a “minimum impact.”
She said when the Israel Project and other prominent Jewish organizations in the area first learned about the ad, they worried about its “ominous” potential.
They discussed the matter at length and then conducted several focus group studies on the ad with dozens of “highly educated people” before concluding the ad wasn’t worth combating actively.
In fact, Laszlo Mizrahi claimed that of the dozens who analyzed the ad in the focus groups, upon first glance most thought the tank was an American one surrounded by Iraqi children. And even when they read the poster’s words, participants had little sympathy for the cause, she said.
“It’s a poorly run... poorly executed campaign and the American people are onto [the U.S. Campaign’s] game,” Laszlo Mizrahi said. “There are real, legitimate threats to the U.S.-Israel relationship – this is just not one of them.
“If these guys want to build support for their cause, they need to have something to sell that doesn’t encourage children to blow themselves up.”