In a reversal of an earlier decision, Metro Transit said Thursday it would not allow a bus ad alleging “Israeli war crimes,” saying a flood of comments has convinced officials that service could be disrupted.
The ad, purchased by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, ties alleged Israeli war crimes to U.S. military aid. The ad had been set to run for a month on the sides of 12 buses starting next week.
Metro also rejected proposals for two counter ads.
“The escalation of this issue from one of 12 local bus placards to a widespread and often vitriolic international debate introduces new and significant security concerns that compel reassessment,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke earlier this week said lawyers had advised Metro that it couldn’t refuse to accept the “Israeli war crimes” ad under current agency policy.
Metro policy restricts advertising that, among other things, can be reasonably foreseen to result in harm to, disruption of, or interference with the transportation system.
“When we accepted the ad from Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, we didn’t have any information to cause us to reasonably foresee that there could be a disruption to transit service,” Thielke said.
That changed once media locally, nationally and internationally ran the story and the comments started coming in, Thielke said. Metro customer service has received about 3,000 e-mails, and local elected officials thousands more.
That made officials concerned that running the ads “could’ve caused anything from vandalism to protests that met the buses,” she said.
Leaders of four Jewish organizations met Wednesday with King County officials, asking them to reconsider allowing the “Israeli war crimes” ad, saying local Jews had reason to fear the ad could bring harm to them. They mentioned how local Jewish institutions had increased security in recent years, and spoke of the 2006 shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, in which one woman was killed.
Metro officials on Thursday also put in place a moratorium on accepting any new noncommercial advertising on King County buses until a new permanent advertising policy is in place. Metro is supposed to have a draft of a permanent policy to Constantine in January.
Ed Mast, spokesman for Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, said he was disappointed by Metro’s decision.
He said his ads “weren’t disrupting Metro. There was no evidence that they were gong to disrupt.”
Rather, he said, “groups who wanted the ads silenced mounted a campaign to disrupt Metro. The disruptions were going to be from people who wanted the message silenced.”
He said he was examining all options and is talking to legal advisers.
“It’s a disturbing precedent that King County approved the ad in the first place and then gave in to public pressure on the content of the ad,” he said.
Amin Odeh, with Voices of Palestine, which supports the bus ad, said, “We know how powerful and aggressive the bullying by right-wing Jewish groups and their special-interest friends can be … . We’re very disappointed that this is going to affect not just our campaign. It also takes away free speech from us and other peace and justice groups.”
Amy Wasser-Simpson, vice president for planning and community services at the Jewish Federation, said the organization was relieved and grateful to hear about Metro’s decision “not to allow Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign’s divisive advertising to run on Seattle buses.”
Writer David Horowitz, of the Los Angeles-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, was one of several to propose a counter ad. His ad would have alleged “Palestinian war crimes.”
Horowitz said Thursday he was happy with Metro’s decision. “I believe that the civic space, which is what buses occupy, should be where community comes together and should not be a platform for polarizing political advertisements in the first place.”
Another counter ad, proposed by Stop Islamization of America, would have said: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Islamic jihad,” according to a news release.
Metro will still run noncommercial ads that had already been accepted under the old policy, including those for MEOW Cat Rescue and King County Library System.