Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Seattle, WA - Refusal of Bus Ads Came on Fear of Terrorist Attacks
Seattle, WA -Law-enforcement officials warned King County Executive Dow Constantine that a bus ad alleging Israeli war crimes — and two ads in response accusing Palestinians of the same — could lead to attacks on buses and passengers, according to documents filed Monday in federal court.
After being advised that news about the ad controversy had been posted on a website associated with the Palestinian Hamas movement, Constantine said, he was concerned the ad would increase the risk of a terrorist attack.
The news story was posted on the website of the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, which describes itself as “the armed branch” of Hamas. Al-Qassam made no threat against Metro.
The county’s legal filings were in response to a lawsuit on behalf of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, which claims its First Amendment free-speech rights were violated when Constantine canceled its ad after a flood of telephone and e-mail complaints. The ad never appeared.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union have asked the court to direct the county to run the ad, which the county accepted but then canceled.
Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington, said the county’s response to the suit “contains nothing that changes our view that the county should honor its contract to run the previously approved ad submitted by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign. We look forward to presenting our case” at a hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Scheduled to run on the sides of 12 Metro buses for four weeks starting in late December, the ad showed children looking at a damaged building in Gaza, with the words, “Israeli war crimes — your tax dollars at work.”
After news of the ad circulated internationally, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and American Freedom Defense Initiative’s Stop Islamization of America submitted ads to Metro alleging Palestinian war crimes.
Constantine put a moratorium on new noncommercial advertising before Metro decided whether to accept the counter-ads, saying transit service could be disrupted.
Metro and Constantine’s office are now drafting a revised ad policy.
According to statements filed by county officials:
• Sheriff Sue Rahr asked Constantine to pull the Mideast Awareness Campaign ad. “I was concerned that the situation was escalating and it was becoming difficult to predict the outcome,” Rahr wrote. “In particular, I was concerned about innocent bus riders being converted into human billboards” on buses carrying the ads. Rahr said passengers could be injured by “spontaneous, emotion driven attacks” such as with thrown rocks or bricks.
• Some bus riders who wear Jewish skullcaps known as kippot or yarmulkes told Metro they were concerned about the safety of themselves or their children on Metro. Other citizens threatened to block or vandalize buses, shut Metro down, or made statements such as, “Those signs will not go up,” and “You want WAR against the Jewish people??? YOU GOT IT!”
• Some drivers said they would refuse to drive buses with the ads, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 President Paul Bachtel said.