New Yorkers are used to aggressive advertising. Banners for breast implants. Billboards for condoms. But a federal judge’s ruling has opened the door for far more controversial posters on buses and subways across the city. “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” reads one such ad next to the image of a young man in a checkered headscarf. “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”
The poster is at the center of heated legal debate over public safety and free speech. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) cannot stop the controversial ad from running on scores of subway cars and buses. The MTA has argued that the ad could incite violence against Jews, but Koeltl rejected that idea.
MTA officials “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements,” he ruled. “Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads — offensive as they may be — are still entitled to First Amendment protection.”
Here’s the twist: the ads are the work not of Muslim faithful, but of Pamela Geller, a fearless Jewish anti-Muslim activist and proprietor of the new-look Atlas Shrugs website:
Making the case all the stranger is that the posters are not the work of an Islamist group, but rather a pro-Israel organization. “This is a triumph for liberty and free speech,” tweeted Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the group that purchased the ads and sued the MTA to run them. “#freedom #victory #shariafail.”
These posters have put AFDI on a crash course with both the MTA and Muslim advocacy groups. In 2011, the MTA refused to run the “savage” ad because it was demeaning to Muslims and Palestinians. AFDI sued, and a federal judge later ruled that MTA’s non-demeaning standard violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The “savage” ads soon went up all over New York City.
AFDI’s ads have also drawn objections from Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil liberties group that promotes the rights of Muslims and better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, launched its own public relations campaign to combat AFDI. In 2012 and 2013, CAIR ran posters in several U.S. cities promoting peaceful versions of Islam. “‘#MyJihad is to build friendships across the aisle.’ What’s yours?” But the ads never ran in New York due to a disagreement between CAIR and MTA.
Anything that frosts CAIR, a real fifth column viper in the American breast, is okay by me.
After AFDI’s victory, Geller posed for photos outside the federal courthouse while holding the “Killing Jews” advertisement. “With our NY win, our ads will make their debut on New York buses in the coming weeks,” AFDI’s Web site promises above a “donate” button. “We want to run 100. Help us make that happen.”
But even if the ads don’t incite violence in New York City, they could overseas. Earlier this month, Egypt’s top religious authority called AFDI’s posters “racist” and issued a fatwa, or official edict, against them. “This hazardous campaign will leave the gate of confrontation and clashes wide open instead of exerting efforts towards peaceful coexistence and harmony,” according to the edict.
To which I say: so what? The American First Amendment is not dependent on whether a bunch of savages takes umbrage at our concept of free speech. “Peaceful coxistence”? Please. Fourteen years after 9/11, how’s that “coexistence” thing working out? They plotted to attack Catholic churchgoers in Paris on Sunday.