Moral Low Ground


San Francisco Donating ‘Savage’ Pro-Israel MUNI Ad Proceeds to Human Rights Commission

The city of San Francisco’s transit agency wants no part of an inflammatory pro-Israel ad placed on MUNI buses by an anti-Muslim hate group.

The ad, condemned as anti-Muslim by even one of San Francisco’s leading Jewish centers, reads: “IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN AND THE SAVAGE, SUPPORT THE CIVILIZED MAN. SUPPORT ISRAEL. DEFEAT JIHAD.” It was paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group co-founded by Pamela Geller, a fiercely pro-Zionist and anti-Muslim blogger.

But even though the San Francisco Municipal Transport Authority (SFMTA) has a policy banning ads that are “clearly inflammatory” and was loth to run the ad, the agency’s hands were tied by a recent federal judge’s ruling that called such ads “protected free speech” under the Constitution.

Faced with the dilemma of how to balance respect for free speech with progressive San Francisco values and a desire to disavow a hateful message implicitly supporting Israel ethnic cleansingapartheid and illegal occupation, SFMTA has come up with a novel approach: it will donate all proceeds from the AFDI ad to the city’s official human rights organization.

The Huffington Post reports that the donation will benefit the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (SFHRC), a government agency established in 1964 to “provide leadership and advocacy to secure, protect and promote human rights for all people.” SFHRC has a history of recognizing Palestinian oppression. Khaldoun Baghdadi, a Palestinian American lawyer, was once the group’s chairman.

“[San Francisco] has a long history of tolerance for all, and while we honor a person’s right to self-expression, there are times when we must say ‘enough,'” SFMTA Board of Directors Chairman Tom Nolan told the Huffington Post. “The recent ad has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace or justice.”

“While this ad is protected under the First Amendment, our ad policy, and our contractual obligations, we condemn the use of any language that belittles, demeans or disparages others,” he added.

The donation solution is seen as the best solution by SFMTA. If it refused to run the controversial ad, AFDI could sue the cash-strapped agency, leading to a potentially lengthy legal battle it would probably lose.

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