Boston’s transit authority, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), have removed “One Word” subway ads, the campaign by NGO Ads Against Apartheid (AAA) highlighting Israel’s crimes against Palestinians that have garnered international attention on social media.
MBTA removed the ads on June 23rd offering no explanation and without even notifying the NGO. After Ads Against Apartheid released this press releaseyesterday, a contractor who handles advertising for MBTA informed them in writing that all three ads in the Ads Against Apartheid’s One Word series campaign, after running for over three weeks, were ”rejected pursuant to Section (b)(I) Demeaning or disparaging.”
This same transit authority ran Islamophobic anti-Muslim ads by Pam Geller’s group “American Freedom Defense Initiative”. AAA president and co-founder, Chadi Salamoun noted “There is certainly a double standard here. Our ads present facts cited by respectable institutions, the MBTA has allowed anti-Palestinian groups to display opinionated messages that border on hate-speech.”
What’s up with that? Read their full press release:
BOSTON, MA, 10 July 2014 – Boston’s transit authority, the MBTA, has removed advertisements highlighting Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians from Boston’s subway transit system under pressure from pro-Israel groups and in an apparent violation of its own policies.
Boston-based non-profit Ads Against Apartheid (AAA), which sponsored the ad campaign, believes the MBTA’s action is a violation of it’s right to freedom of speech. Sarah Wunsch of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU) said that the organization will support AAA’s efforts to get the advertisements back up.
AAA says the MBTA did not notify it that the ads had been removed. The removal took place on Thursday, June 23. As of this writing, the MBTA has not offered an official explanation as to why the contract had been terminated early.
An official working closely with the MBTA told AAA by telephone that the ads were likely removed because they were found to be “demeaning to the state of Israel.” Richard Colbath-Hess, Jewish co-founder of Ads Against Apartheid, emphasized that the ads criticize the behavior of the Israeli government, not any national group or individual.
“We’ve asked for an official reason why the ads were removed but have yet to be given one,” said AAA president and co-founder, Chadi Salamoun. “It’s been two weeks. You’d think we would have been told two weeks ago.
The MBTA had previously approved the advertisements after a lengthy review process, which presented facts – sourced primarily from United Nations reports – challenging the idea that Israel is committed to peace. They were on display for more than half of a month before they were removed without notice.
“There is certainly a double standard here. Our ads present facts cited by respectable institutions,” argues Salamoun. “The MBTA has allowed anti-Palestinian groups to display opinionated messages that border on hate-speech,” he said in reference to a pro-Israel ad that the American Freedom Defense Initiative sponsored in early 2014, which sought to draw a contrast between what it called “the civilized man” and “those engaged in savage acts,” clearly implying that Palestinians comprise the latter.
“If an ad can be removed for being ‘demeaning’ and ‘subjective,’ then why weren’t these ads removed?” wonders Colbath-Hess. “Aren’t they demeaning to Palestinians? The MBTA can’t use its position to give voice to the Israeli position while silencing ads that highlight human rights abuses that the Israeli government commits daily.”
“I’m Jewish,” he continues. “And, I don’t support Israeli apartheid.”
“We’re going to continue to publish ads that educate Americans on the impact of Israeli apartheid on Palestinian lives,” says Salamoun. “If the MBTA, a public institution, allows opinionated criticism of Palestinians but disallows factual ads critical of the Israeli government, then we see that as a fairly clear violation of our right to free speech, and we certainly plan to defend our Constitutional rights.”
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