Coalition urges SF authorities to refrain from stigmatizing political ads

Press Releases
May 24, 2013

(SAN FRANCISCO 05/24/2013) – Civil rights organizations call upon San Francisco authorities to resist pressure to stigmatize Muni bus ads that quote Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu characterizing Israeli policies as apartheid. The coalition, including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Asian Law Caucus and the National Lawyers Guild, urges San Francisco authorities to uphold open debate on one of the most important human rights issues of our time.

The ads, which first appeared on Muni buses on May 7, were placed by the education and advocacy organization American Muslims for Palestine. They feature political speech that critiques Israeli policy and US foreign aid to Israel. The ads make no denigrating statements about Jewish people or Judaism, nor do they reference that community at all. But in response, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – institutions with long histories of attempting to stifle open and honest debate about Israeli policies – have unleashed a relentless smear campaign to mislabel political critique as hate speech. They conflate AMP’s political message with hate-filled racist and Islamophobic ads placed by Pamela Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative, which call Palestinians and Muslims ‘savages,’ and denigrate an entire religion and its adherents.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the Freedom Defense Initiative as a hate group.

“Critique of Israel’s race-based system of governance is not hate, it is core political speech. It is critical to the free marketplace of ideas to resist the pressure to demonize political speech and equate it with anti-Jewish or hate-filled speech,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, AMP chairman and Berkeley professor.

The coalition is urging the Municipal Transportation Authority and San Francisco supervisors to resist pressure to donate ad proceeds to the Human Rights Commission, which would officially equate the political ads with hate speech. The coalition also urges authorities to resist pressure to shut down its vehicles as a public forum for political speech altogether.

“Many Israeli authorities and other notable figures such as former President Jimmy Carter have used the legal term apartheid to characterize Israeli state policies,” said Carol Sanders of Jewish Voice for Peace. “San Francisco has long been a city where diverse opinions, political speech, and freedom of expression have been valued and protected. It should stay that way.”

The transportation authority may consider a letter sponsored by Supervisor Scott Wiener and signed by six other supervisors calling for condemnation of AMP’s ad at its next meeting. The coalition of human rights and social justice activists is urging SFMTA to uphold the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and refrain from equating political speech with hate speech. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the people of the San Francisco Bay area, where open debate about the great issues of our time and diversity of political opinion are so highly valued.