StandWithUs billboard on the corner of Harris Street and Cedar Avenue in Helena, Montana (Photo: Eliza Wiley/Independent Record)
Helena, Montana’s Independent Record, has jumped on the billboards calling for an end to aid to Israel. The newspaper notes that a “war of words” is being waged between billboards from both sides of the question in the capital city– “bringing home the international debate on Israel and the Palestinians”.
As we reported earlier, on May 20th the first billboards appeared in Helena telling Congress to quit funding the Israeli military. Since then, StandwithUs has jumped into the fray as it did in Denver, Houston and elsewhere, seeking to put a positive spin on Israel’s atrocities.
The Independent Record’s hometown reporter Al Knauber offered extensive quotes from both sides, including Stop30Billion co founder Armen Chakerian, and Service for Peace and Justice activist Will Boland. Knauber’s coverage served as a platform for debate with the war of words on full display inside the article itself.
Knauber also cited the reports of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and French lawyer and judge Christine Chanet, who is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Ouch.
From his piece, Dueling billboards in Helena call US aid to Israel into question:
According to the online site for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, a news release on the report states that “a multitude of the human rights of the Palestinians are violated in various forms and ways due to the existence of the settlements.”
“These violations are all interrelated, forming part of an overall pattern of breaches that are characterized principally by the denial of the right to self-determination and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian people which occur on a daily basis,” the statement continues.
“In compliance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” said Ms. Christine Chanet, chair of the Mission from France.
Knauber gave the final word to StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein (sounding rather snippity IMHO):
Rothstein said her organization has placed billboards in response to billboards in communities across the nation.
StandWithUs placed billboards in Missoula in March to counter a similar anti-Israel billboard campaign, a news release from the group noted.
“We always do,” she said of the response by StandWithUs to billboards targeting Israel. “It’s a pattern of ours as it’s a pattern of theirs,” she said.
…A combination of anti-Israel groups pretend to be pro-Palestinian, Rothstein said.
“The bottom line is they don’t want an Israel. They want Israel to be gone,” she said.
Rothstein subsequently entered the comment section and claimed there were so many false allegations in the article it was difficult for her to know where to begin. She stated that the Human Rights Council was not a reliable source (even though Knauber never referenced the Human Rights Council) and said that US aid to Israel is actually aid to Americans:
US aid to Israel benefits Americans because 75% of it is spent in the US, creating jobs in America. America spends billions to keep its soldiers around the world to shore up its allies, but has no soldiers in Israel… The real question is: When will the Palestinian leaders, Hamas and Abbas, give up their bigotry and accept Israel as a Jewish state next door and say “yes” to Israel’s many offers for peace?
Meanwhile, JTA’s article about the “Billboard battle” in Montana wraps up with an unusual factoid:
Montana had 1,350 Jewish residents as of 2010. A study that year placed Montana as 42nd among states for number of Jews per 100,000 residents.
I’m not sure what that has to do with these billboards. Israel is an American issue, not just a Jewish one.
At this point, Helena Service for Peace and Justice and Coalition to Stop 30 Billion to Israel has generated a dialogue that gets lots of people thinking, people who otherwise might not want to think or talk about Israel/Palestine or if they do think about it think it’s not their place to talk about it. The billboards have created a massive opportunity for exposure.