Pro-Israel group responds with own ads at Metro-North stations

Passengers board and disembark from a southbound train

Passengers board and disembark from a southbound train at the New Rochelle Metro-North station. (March 27, 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

Supporters of Israel are striking back at pro-Palestine ads placed at Metro-North stations during the Passover holiday with billboards graphically depicting what it claims is Islamic oppression of gays, Jews and women, Newsday has learned.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative paid $10,000 to buy ads that purport to show hooded Islamic fundamentalists preparing to hang gay men and rape victims being beaten for refusing to marry their attackers, according to Pamela Geller, the president of the group.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials confirmed that the ads have been bought.

Geller, known for her 2010 campaign to try to prevent an Islamic community center from opening near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, said the ads should appear in the coming weeks.

Geller said she wants the ads put beside ones bought by the American Muslims for Palestine that went up this week. Those ads quote Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu as criticizing the Israeli government and call for the United States to cut off funding for Israel.

"End Apartheid now," the ads read. "Stop U.S. Aid to Israel."

In an email to Newsday, Geller attached several versions of the ads, which depict scenes of torture beneath the boldfaced words: "This is Islamic Apartheid. Stop U.S. Aid to Islamic States."

"Under Islamic law rape victims are tortured or killed unless they agree to marry their rapist," reads one ad. Above the words, a woman kneels as a menacing figure takes a whip to her back.

The ads are the latest salvo in an increasingly nasty schoolyard war of words between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups that for the past year has been playing out at Metro-North stations throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City.

The chairman of the American Muslims for Palestine, Hatem Bazian, said the "offensiveness" of Geller's ads do little to advance a legitimate debate over Islamic views on homosexuality and women.

"Even though in the criticism of Islam there are legitimate points of debate, she's using shock therapy and racist shock therapy as a way to convey her thinking in an offensive way," said Bazian, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "There's a way to have a discussion and debate versus trying to shock people."

Bazian said his group purposefully timed the ads to appear at 25 Metro-North stations around President Barack Obama's recent trip to the Middle East as a way to stoke debate about U.S. financing of Israel and the plight of Palestinians.

"Our ads are specifically addressing policy," Bazian said.

Bazian said the group's ads, which will be up for about another month, already have prompted a number of people to call to find out more about the organization's positions.

"There is a broad-based debate taking place," Bazian said. "It's having a positive effect."

Last year, Geller initially was rebuffed by the MTA, Metro-North's parent agency, when she tried to place ads at railroad stations that the MTA said discriminated against Muslims.

But after a legal challenge by her organization, a federal judge said the MTA's policy of rejecting ads it considered demeaning to groups or individuals infringed on the group's right to free expression.

As a result, the MTA has been forced to reconsider its policy.

Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the First Amendment limits the MTA's ability to control the content of messages in paid ads.

"MTA advertising spaces serve broadly as a vehicle for a wide variety of communications, including, at times, controversial ads that express viewpoints on matters of public concern," Donovan said earlier this week.

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