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Political ads prompt MTA policy review

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, and 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.

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.

In a statement, the MTA 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.

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.

Staff and wire reports

State & Region