Posted last night and updated with comments from the ACLU of Washington, which stands by its lawsuit that argues the ads should run, despite the threats.
The reason King County refused to run ads about "Israeli War Crimes" on the side of buses in December, it revealed in records filed in King County Superior Court today, was that Metro call centers and inboxes were deluged with inflamed protests, not only from Jewish people afraid for their safety on buses, but from Jewish sympathizers threatening the county with violence if the ads ran. The county also believed that allowing the ads could escalate to a "risk of terrorist violence."
"You want WAR against the Jewish people? YOU GOT IT!" one person wrote. While others, according to a court brief filed by King County Prosecuting Attorney's office, said, "If you run these ads we will … shut metro down," and, "KC ATTY IS FORCING ME TO VIOLENCE."
One person sent photos of gored corpses in bombed out buses with handwriting that said, "No to bus ads for Muslim terrorists." (You can see, if you want, in this .pdf).
- The ad that started it all
"WE JEWS ARE NOT THE SAME AS THE JEWS OF EUROPE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR!!" one person wrote to King County Metro, which operates the buses. "WE GET PISSED OFF, WE TAKE ACTION!!! TAKE THE ADS DOWN!!!!!"
After seeing some of these communications, County Executive Dow Constantine says his leadership team "expressed grave concerns to me that several of the calls and emails conveyed an intent or threat to block or vandalize Metro buses, and there were some communications that could be interpreted as expressing more violent, if less specific, intentions," according to his declaration filed with the court.
The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign had paid to run ads in December, but Constantine blocked them over the week of Christmas due to an unspecified threat of service disruptions. In attempt to overturn that decision, the ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on the group's behalf that argued King County violated the Constitution by refusing to post the ads only after they proved controversial.
ACLU spokesman Doug Honig says the court filing "contains nothing that changes our view that the County should honor its contract to run the approved ad submitted by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign. We will be presenting our case at a hearing on our request for a preliminary injunction this coming Monday morning at 10." Even if that fails, Honig says, the court case will proceed on its own merits.
Late last month, I speculated that the county received violent threats and probed officials for details (a threat would demonstrate a legitimate threat of service disruption, which officials hadn't revealed). They refused to acknowledge those threats until today.
The county cites several other concerns, including Jewish passengers who feared for their safety in a bus with the ads on the outside. "I do not intend to endanger myself by riding on a vehicle that has emblazoned on the side of it hate messages," one person wrote. Sheriff Sue Rahr wrote to the court that the ads may "create a potential security risk for the Metro transit system." And US Attorney Jenny Durkan reportedly told Constantine that a transit system is "a vulnerable target."
Another concern: Increasing visibility in the Middle East. An article about the ad appeared on the website of Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, an armed branch of Hamas. The county received counter ads from Horowitz Freedom Center (a conservative group) and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (an anti-Islamic group). "The counter ads would almost certainly intensify public unease," Constantine wrote. "It also appeared to me that Palestinian or Muslim communities, among others, could perceive the counter ads to be insulting, degrading, or offensive."
"Under such circumstances," King County attorneys wrote, "it was responsible for King County to act to reduce Metro's visibility to terrorist groups and the risk of terrorist violence."
Fielding the thousands complaints also cost $24,000 of Metro staff-time, far outweighing the $1,794, Metro would make from the ad, the county says. And the county received more generic disruptions. One person wrote, "SO HELP ME I BETTER NOT SEE ON OF THOSE ADS ON A BUS. I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO CONTROL MYSELF" Another commented, "I think I will organize a 'riot' at your bus stops... Maybe the Jewish population should change their behavior."
The ACLU of Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.