There was a big shebang in Boston yesterday over the Palestine Advocacy Project’s massively popular “ONE WORD” ad campaign at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Fiscal and Management Control Board public meeting. The ad features the image of a young Palestinian girl along with statistics about the devastating violence inflicted by the Israeli government on Palestinian children. A banner at the bottom of the poster reads, “Stop U.S. military aid to Israel.”
Reportedly discussion of the ad “turned the MBTA meeting into a forum on global affairs and free speech.” There’s been tons of press about these ads. Since the ads went back up on the subway walls this month (after being pulled by the transit authority in June 2014 for being “demeaning” and a long drawn out battle ensued) — an anti-Palestinian organization called Americans for Peace and Tolerance, possibly affiliated with Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic “American Freedom Defense Initiative” (ADFI), have been viciously protesting the ads and local coverage has been persistent.
The MBTA management board (locally known as “the T”) heard public testimony before a vote on Monday afternoon and the T decided to ban political issue advertising on the transit system. A new advertising policy is going into effect midnight Nov. 30 — the ads are coming down.
Simultaneously, Bostonians visited the State House yesterday protesting ten of their state senators heading off to Israel. As Boston Business Journal noted, the Israel/Palestinian conflict surfaced “as a central theme in two protests” on Monday — which is a great thing as far as we’re concerned. Even Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker weighed in on the action prior to the vote stating he didn’t want to prejudice the board’s decision but “I certainly think it’s an appropriate conversation for the fiscal management and control board to have and I wouldn’t be disappointed if they decided that we were going to get out of the business of supporting politically charged advertising.”
And everything spilled over at the crammed press junket post-meeting, with vicious accusations against Palestine Advocacy Project board member Richard Colbath-Hess, who said public spaces should be used to fuel debate. “He’s the cousin of Hitler“, the yelling and shouting ensued as Colbath-Hess answered reporters questions after the T’s Board meeting. Here’s a glimpse of the havoc yesterday, Colbath-Hess is amazing in this video. How he can keep such composure and stay on message with this angry mob surrounding him and the reporters is astounding:
Here’s some of the local coverage. WGBH reports, Tired Of Conflict And Lawsuits, MBTA Board Bans Political Ads
According to the T, the advertising policy change has been in the works for weeks, but it gained urgency after a pro-Palestinian group recently placed an ad claiming that the Israeli military kills Palestinian children using U.S. tax dollars…..
Some members of the local Jewish community say the ad defamed all Jews and want it to come down.
“It’s a piece of incitement, and we don’t need Jews being stabbed here in Boston,” Charles Jacobs from the pro-Israel organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance told reporters after the public comment period of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting…..
“The T is a public place. It should have public debate. This is good for the American public,” said Richard Colbath-Hess, a board member for the Palestine Advocacy Project, the group that sponsored the ad. Colbath-Hess said that pro-Israeli groups should get their own ad so both sides can be in the public view.
Boston Business Journal MBTA bans political ads as protesters focus on Israeli-Palestinian conflict
He was subjected to shouting from his ideological opponents.
“He’s the cousin of Hitler,” said Daniel Hermon, slapping Colbath-Hess on the back. Hermon also joined those yelling over Colbath-Hess as he spoke to reporters…..
Paul Fleishman compared the ad — which depicts a girl in pigtails standing outdoors — to Islamic State recruitment and used it to disparage Palestinian children in comments to the control board.
“If it would be a real Palestinian girl it would have a suicide vest on her. That’s how I know this is probably not a Palestinian girl,” Fleishman said.
To catch readers up, after the ads were pulled by MBTA in 2014 (we reported here), the decision was widely criticized. Attorneys Howard Cooper and Ben Wish of Todd & Weld, cooperating attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, represented the Palestine Advocacy Project challenging the censorship, asserting that ads critical of government policies did not violate the MBTA’s advertising rules, and were protected by the First Amendment. They were in successful in urging the MBTA to restore the ads.
Earlier this month on November 6, MBTA agreed to display the Palestine Advocacy Project’s ONE WORD ads and the project chose to re-run just one of the removed ads at the T’s Davis Station for the month of November. At that time several new ads were scheduled for display in December.
Make no mistake, the Palestine Advocacy Project is quite determined to continue on their mission to inform the American public. In fact both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have reached out to them in the past 24 hours to make it clear they welcome their ads. Hence, they are exploring opportunities with both.
They’ve informed me the public transportation advertising campaign they plan on launching early next year should meet the MBTA’s new requirements. “We are working with an amazing animator on some really compelling web content and studying how best to use digital display advertising (like banner ads)”
Sarah Wunsch, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, noted that the organization has successfully pushed the MBTA over many years to allow the display of ads that some consider controversial.
“In a free society, we understand that people may see things in public places with which they disagree. But the government should not be in the business of restricting the free flow of ideas in space that is set up for expression, like advertising space, simply to protect the sensibilities of those who can avert their eyes if they don’t like what they see.”
“We certainly share the discomfort many cities have expressed toward some of the ads pro-Israel organizations have submitted as of late,” said Palestine Advocacy Project President Jake Chase-Lubitz in reference to a recent case against New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, “but we believe that our right to advocate responsibly and compassionately for Palestinian rights is worth protecting. We have an obligation to present the reality in Palestine to Americans and we’re glad that the MBTA has accepted our ads.”
As always, people who support the work the Palestine Advocacy Project is doing and want to contribute should visit their website.