At noon today, roughly a dozen Jewish leaders plan to deliver a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine demanding that he reinstate 12 controversial ads reading "Israeli War Crimes—Your Tax Dollars at Work" onto the side of Metro buses. Constantine withdrew the ads after some claimed they would incite violence.
Howard Gale, a local Jewish research psychologist, says 36 members of Seattle's Jewish community have signed the missive asking Constantine to reconsider his position and allow the ads. "This sets a dangerous precedent that baseless threats and bullying can, in the absence of principled arguments, set public policy," they wrote.
What's notable, Gale says, is that these signatories aren't tied to any one group—they're simply Jews who are uncomfortable with Constantine's decision. "If you're Jewish, there's this misconception that there's a magical, mysterious consensus," he says on the phone today. "In reality, there's a wide range of opinion amongst us. A lot of people don't like the ads. But that's not the point. We feel more threatened by the decision [Constantine's] made than if the ads had run."
The letter and more after the jump.
On December 23, Constantine made the decision to pull the ads—which were paid for by a group called the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign but had not yet run—after Metro received at least 500 calls and emails, mostly complaining about the ads. (In response, the ACLU of Washington called Constantine's decision to take ad money, not run the ads, and then retroactively change the rules for Metro bus ads "illegal.")
Even though many Jewish organizations, including the Seattle Jewish Federation, decried the ads as Anti-Israeli and lobbied hard to get them removed, Gale says that the ads aren't anti-Israel. Furthermore, he and others feel the message Constantine's sending about free speech (or lack thereof) is more threatening than a bus ad. "It's an affront," says Gale. "This goes beyond a difference of opinion. [Constantine's] reasoning for removing the bus ads is at variance with the actual policy. He talks about violence and disruption [the ads would bring], but we need to know both on a theoretical level what he envisions and on a practical level what will happen. If you put buses out advertising Israeli War Crimes, how is that anti-Israel? Who will be violent?"
Here's the letter the group plans to deliver today to Constantine.
Dear Mr. Constantine,
We are members of the Seattle Jewish community who have joined together to urge you to reconsider your decision to prevent the “Israeli War Crimes — Your Tax Dollars at Work” ads from being placed on Metro buses. Your statement that if the ads run there would be “an unacceptable risk of harm to or disruption of service” has baffled and alarmed us. We don't understand the rationale for your claims of harm and disruption, and we are alarmed by the sudden abrogation of the contract for the ads. This sets a dangerous precedent that baseless threats and bullying can, in the absence of principled arguments, set public policy.
We believe that a public airing of grievances is a requirement for a democracy to function. It leads to people feeling engaged and respected, thereby lowering, not raising, tensions and anger. It is when speech and facts are suppressed that people feel isolated and ignored. In this context your decision concerning the bus ads appears counter-productive to attaining your stated goals.
Your claims that these ads might prove disruptive or costly to King County are particularly ironic in light of our county’s history. It took over 20 years to change the logo of King County from a crown to the face of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., over the repeated objections as to the cost and “disruptions” such a change would entail. We believe that as King County Executive it is your duty to do what is right and principled, not just what avoids “disruptions.”
It is necessary to clarify what the bus ads are not. Since the ads state evidence-based claims (see below) they cannot, in and of themselves, be considered anti-Israeli (anymore than criticism of US policy is anti-American). Indeed, as outlined below, numerous Israeli organizations have made the same claims as regards war crimes. It certainly goes beyond reasonable discourse to label such ads as anything approximating “hate speech.”
The claim of “Israeli War Crimes — Your Tax Dollars at Work” is evidence-based and is therefore far from being inherently inflammatory or inaccurate since:
(1) Every internationally recognized non-governmental human rights organization (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Human Rights Council) that has investigated the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza has come to the conclusion that there is abundant evidence of war crimes committed by Israel. So too have all the major Israeli human rights organizations (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem, Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, and others). In fact, the most complete investigation to date (the 452 page September 2009 report from the UN Fact Finding Mission headed by the noted international Justice Richard Goldstone) goes further, stating that “From the facts available to it, the Mission is of the view that some of the actions of the Government of Israel might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed.”
(2) The US provides Israel with F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, white phosphorus shells, GBU-39 guided bombs, controversial DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) shells, and a variety of other armaments at US taxpayer expense. Many of these armaments were used in the commission of war crimes (noted above).
Several organizations in the Seattle area (the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, along with the Seattle/Northwest chapters of the national groups the Anti-Defamation League, Stand With Us, and the American Jewish Committee) have exploited the fears of anti-Semitism and victimization to advance a very narrow agenda that has nothing to do with the safety and protection of the Jewish people and culture, but instead serves only to protect Israeli policies and practices that have denied basic human rights to Palestinians. These organizations do not speak for us, and in fact violate the long-standing Jewish traditions we hold most sacred, traditions that have guided us in our lives and careers: the values of justice and liberation. Labeling the bus ads as “anti-Israel,” “anti-Jewish,” or “hate speech” is an offensive tactic which should never be encouraged, and certainly not supported by echoing those claims or acting upon them.
The bus ads are not about singling out Israel, but rather about taking responsibility for our government enabling Israeli human rights abuses, through the supply of money, arms, and diplomatic cover. Indeed, Amnesty International has called for the international community to “act immediately” at the level of individual states “to suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions, as well as those which may be diverted, to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” (AI, July 2009 report).
In 2003, and again in 2005, ads were placed on Metro buses that protested the Iraq war. In the 2005 ads there was a graphic picture of an Iraqi child severely injured by an American cluster bomb. There were people who labeled those bus ads as anti-American, yet Metro ran those ads without incident. If we can question the use of US armaments by Americans, why can we not question the use of US armaments by the Israelis?
Finally, we note that if there are fears that ads addressing Palestinian war crimes, proposed by other organizations, might incite hatred or violence, then you should consider those ads on a case-by-case basis according to long-standing policy. It violates the most basic conditions for free speech to allow one person's speech to suppress another's.
We therefore request that you, as King County Executive, act in a manner consistent with supporting free speech, the legacy of the man King County is named for, and the highest ideals of Jewish culture: allow the bus ads to run, thereby allowing the public to question the human rights abuses committed in our name and with our tax dollars.