'Islamorealism' Metro-North ads cause stir

New signs sponsored by controversial anti-Islam activist Pamela New signs sponsored by controversial anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller have debuted at Metro-North stations throughout Westchester. (Aug. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: NEWS12

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A new set of Metro-North advertisements is causing an uproar over controversial sentiment.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative has put up a series of anti-Islamic billboards in several Westchester County stations in the past week, raising the eyebrows of commuters and condemnation from at least one local politician.

The ads -- reading "19,250 deadly Islamic attacks since 9/11/01 and counting. It's not Islamophobia, it's Islamorealism" -- have been spotted at the Hartsdale, Scarsdale and Hastings-on-Hudson train stations.

Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said the group has 50 ads running for the month and will continue to run them as funds are raised in a nationwide campaign.

The ads are "running on the same kiosks as the vicious and fallacious anti-Israel ads," Geller wrote in an email to Newsday, referring to a set of pro-Palestinian advertisements posted in Metro-North stations in July.

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The earlier billboards were sponsored by Henry Clifford, the co-chairman of the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine, and featured maps of Israel from 1946 through 2010 focusing on the expansion of Israel at the expense of Palestinians.

Clifford's ads were met with criticism from residents and Jewish leaders. In response to the signs, the California-based pro-Israel group StandWithUs sponsored its own set of signs highlighting its view of the historical Jewish connection to Israel on billboards in Metro-North train stations from Peekskill to Yonkers.

A spokeswoman for StandWithUs said the group had no comment on the signs put up by Geller's group. Henry Clifford and the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine could not be reached for comment.

On Thursday morning, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner took to social media to express his condemnation of the 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 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.

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"What's the value of getting people to hate each other just because of their ethnicity?" Feiner asked.

Feiner said Metro-North should put a disclaimer next to the billboard stating it does not support the ads' claims and also should not keep the money made from the advertisements.

"Metro-North should not profit from the billboard and should donate the money they receive to an anti-hate group like the Anti-Defamation League," Feiner said.

Feiner said that in addition to offending members of the Greenburgh community, he worried that the ad could potentially "incite somebody mentally unbalanced from either side to do something stupid."

But, said Geller, "the ad is just stating a fact -- that there have been over 19,000 jihad attacks since 9/11," citing figures from the website thereligionofpeace.com.

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Geller dismissed the idea that the ads may be offensive to Westchester County's Muslim community, writing, "Jihadists worldwide make recruits among peaceful Muslims by portraying themselves as the exponents of true Islam. Rather than being offended by my ads, Muslims who genuinely oppose jihad should be joining me to fight against it and challenge the jihadist interpretation of Islam."

Still, others say the ads generalize all followers of Islam. Ron Meier, New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Newsday that although his group agrees the ads should be legally allowed to run, they "object both to the message and the messenger."

"We find them to be highly offensive and inflamatory," Meier said, "Being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Muslim."

The Hastings-on-Hudson station ad was vandalized not long after it went up. A photo appearing on the American Freedom Defense Initiative's website shows the sign almost entirely removed save for a blank corner where someone wrote in metallic marker: "Countless acts of terrorism and violence have been committed by Christian Extremists. Does this make all Christians terrorists?"

Geller said CBS Outdoor, who oversees Metro-North advertising, initially replaced it with a different ad, but has assured her that it is being rectified.

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Geller blames media bias for the criticism of the ads. "I'm wondering why there was no comparable brouhaha when two vicious anti-Israel ads ran?" Geller wrote, "I have never advocated violence and my ad doesn't call for violence. It is much more likely that Islamic supremacists and their Leftist allies, who have a history of violence, will respond with violence to my truth-telling."

The Metro-North signs are not the group's only brush with controversy this year. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried to prevent the group from using a similar ad campaign on its buses, which read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad." A federal judge ruled against the agency last month, deeming the ads protected speech.

Calls and emails to CBS Outdoor and the Westchester Muslim Center were not returned as of Friday morning.

Additional Reporting by Christian Wade

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