Social justice groups react to anti-jihad ads

In response to anti-jihad advertisements that were put up in New York subways last month, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and the Sojourners have created two different counter-ads. Both were put on display earlier this week.

The original ads, created by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, state, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”

The Sojourners’ ad reads, “Love Your Muslim Neighbors: From the Sojourners Community.”

“Everyone, regardless of race, religion or creed, deserves to feel welcomed and safe when riding public transit in America,” said Timothy King, chief communications officer of the Sojourners. “Sojourners hopes this simple message will stand in stark contrast to the anti-Muslim ads that are drawing so much attention and provide a more hopeful, peaceful and faithful witness in New York City.”

The Rabbis for Human Rights-North America ad says, “In the choice between love and hate, Choose Love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”

However, American Freedom Defense Initiative executive director Pamela Geller said there is nothing hateful about anti-jihad.

“The counter-ads are fine from a free speech standpoint, but where were these groups countering ‘hate’ when the Fogel family was murdered in Israel?” Geller said. “Or when the Chabad house was targeted for a bloody jihad attack in Mumbai? Or when Christians are persecuted on an increasingly frequent and violent basis in Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere? Or when a jihadist opened fire on a Jewish school in Jerusalem killing eight small children?”

While Geller said the purpose of the ads is to tell the truth about the jihad war, Helga Tawil-Souri, Steinhardt associate professor of Media, Culture and Communication, said the ad was simplistic propaganda.

“These aren’t truths but opinions, and extremely racist, reactionary and reaction-provoking ones at that,” Tawil-Souri said. “If we are after truth, and want to frame it in problematically dichotomous frameworks, why not raise awareness of the magnitude of the [War on Terror’s] threat, of the U.S.’s anti-democratic interests in other countries, of the magnitude of drone warfare, of continued anti-Muslim speech, and so on?”

The American Freedom Defense Initiative’s ads, which were put up Sept. 24, will be on display for a month. Originally, the Metropolitan Transit Authority attempted to block the ads, but after a lawsuit, they changed their policy to comply with the judge’s ruling.

“MTA does not endorse any of the ads that are posted in the system,” said MTA media liaison, Aaron Donovan.

As part of their new policy, the MTA will now “require sponsors who submit viewpoint ads on political, religious or moral issues or related matters” to include a disclaimer that the views expressed are not endorsed by the MTA.

“Our policy was amended so that it now adheres to a ruling by a federal judge who struck down an earlier guideline that had prohibited ads that demeaned individuals or groups of people based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation,” Donovan said. “The MTA is fully committed to the freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 10 print edition. Emily Bell is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]