MTA reviewing policy on Israeli-Palestinian political ads

<b>NEWS12 WESTCHESTER:</b> Some Metro-North commuters say they've been offended by recent ads referencing Islam. (Aug. 23, 2012)

NEWS12 WESTCHESTER: Some Metro-North commuters say they've been offended by recent ads referencing Islam. (Aug. 23, 2012)

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reviewing its policy of allowing noncommercial messages at commuter train stations as a flurry of ads offer views on Islam and the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

The most recent ads appear at some of Metro-North's New Haven Line stations, according to Connecticut media, and at Hartsdale, Scarsdale and Hastings-on-Hudson link Islam to terrorism. Billboards paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative tell commuters, "It's not Islamophobia, It's Islamorealism."

The MTA is the parent organization of Metro-North.

Pamela Geller, a blogger who runs the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said she hopes commuters who see the billboards "will gain a new understanding of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat."

Geller said the ads, which will run through Sept. 2, were bought to counter platform ads critical of Israel that ran at Metro-North stations in July. The billboards were financed by retired Wall Street broker Henry Clifford of the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine.

Ads showed a map of Israel labeled "Palestinian Loss of Land -- 1946 to 2010," depicting a gradual transfer of land to Israel during the decades-long conflict.

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Clifford, an 83-year-old Essex resident who purchased the ads for $25,000, said he wants to present the point of view of Palestinians that he said is often lacking in the United States.

"Our posters show historical information without any editorial comment," he said.

Earlier this month, the pro-Israel group StandWithUs said it was spending $16,000 on 75 ads that will be posted at train stations along the Harlem line and in Mount Vernon, Pelham, New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Scarsdale, Hartsdale, White Plains and other locations.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it is considering revising its policy on noncommercial ads.

"The MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement," it said. "MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting noncommercial viewpoint advertisements."


A federal judge issued an injunction last month, finding that the MTA violated free speech rights of Geller and the AFDI by rejecting an ad it considered discriminatory against Muslims. The judge said the MTA's policy prohibiting ads it considered "demeaning to individuals or a group of individuals" inhibited AFDI's right to express its opinion.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner has taken to social media to express his condemnation of the AFDI ad that appeared in the Hartsdale station, writing that the sign "encourages hatred, discrimination and does not reflect the opinions of many in the community."

Feiner told Newsday Aug. 16 he received a large email response to his tweet and, although some expressed support of the signs, he estimated about 70 percent were in agreement with his stance.

Feiner said Metro-North should put a disclaimer next to the billboard stating it does not support the ads' claims and suggested the railroad should donate the proceeds from the ads to anti-hate groups. Feiner was unavailable for comment Thursday.

With Newsday Westchester

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