George Tibbits – Associated Press December 23, 2010
The outcry over a proposed bus ad to protest Israeli actions in Gaza prompted King County Executive Dow Constantine on Friday to order the county’s transit system not to accept it or any other new noncommercial advertising.
A group called Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign paid $2,760 to place the ad on 12 buses, starting Monday, Metro Transit spokeswoman Linda Thielke said. The placard shows children and a demolished building with the caption, “Israeli War Crimes – Your tax dollars at work.”
Monday is the two-year anniversary of Israel attacking Gaza. The three-week invasion, begun after Israel received incessant rocket barrages, left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, including many civilians.
Earlier this week, Constantine ordered a review of the system’s advertising policy after Metro Transit officials received hundreds of e-mails and other messages objecting to the ad. Two organizations also sought to buy bus ads to counter it.
Those ads also have been rejected under the interim policy. The only exceptions to the noncommercial ban are ads by government entities.
The Israeli-Gaza ad passed a review by the county prosecutor’s office under the previous advertising policy. But in a news release, Constantine said the “widespread and often vitriolic international debate” it spawned raised serious security concerns.
“Given the dramatic escalation of debate in the past few days over these proposed ads, and the submission of inflammatory response ads, there is now an unacceptable risk of harm to or disruption of service to our customers should these ads run,” Constantine said.
Earlier, Constantine also said the hundreds of hours in staff time needed to deal with controverisal ads wasn’t worth the “negligible” revenue they bring in.
Ed Mast, a spokesman for Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, said “bullying and intimidation” by opponents caused Metro to change its policy. The ad was only intended to generate discussion and awareness, he said.
“The King County executive has given in to this campaign of threats and disruption,” Mast said.
Metro already bans ads for alcohol, tobacco and adult entertainment, but has accepted other ads as long as they didn’t cause a threat to public safety. Ads have been run by political, religious and other groups, including one by a group saying there is no God.
County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, who had called for the policy review, said Friday that the council will attempt to permanently bar such provocative ads while not infringing on free speech rights.
He said people have the right to voice their opinions, “but I don’t think the public should have to subsidize public transportation to advertise messages of hate.”