Posters with the message “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah” next to a photo of a man with a keffiyeh wrapped around his face may soon be plastered on New York City subways and buses, after a federal ruling on Tuesday cleared the way for their placement.
The posters are not sponsored by an anti-Semitic organization, however, but by a pro-Israel one. The American Freedom Defense Initiative, classified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been fighting to get the ads up since last year.
The quote on the ads is attributed to "Hamas MTV," and is followed by a second line that states, “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”
Per a 1998 federal ruling, city buses and subways are considered a “designated public forum,” meaning that in most cases, the MTA can’t restrict the content of ads displayed there. However, a legal regulation does forbid material that “incites or provokes” violence.
Officials with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved six of the AFDI’s other anti-Islamic ads in September, but rejected the “Killing Jews” poster because they feared the second line of the ad could be interpreted as a “call to violence,” according to The Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled Tuesday that the MTA cannot prevent the ad from running.
“There is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads -- offensive as they may be -- are still entitled to First Amendment protection,” Koetl said.
AFDI President Pamela Gellar tweeted that the decision was a “victory.”
— Pamela Geller (@PamelaGeller) April 21, 2015
The ads that were not initially rejected went up last year, and included posters with the message “Yesterday’s moderate is today’s headline,” and others demanding the U.S. stop providing aid to Islamic countries.
Religious leaders and many elected officials condemned the ads’ Islamophobic messages. "These ads are vile, hateful, indecent and only serve to fan the flames of intolerance," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a September statement.
New York's MTA has tried and failed to reject AFDI campaigns in the past. A nearly identical situation played out in 2012, when the MTA refused to run ads reading: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Officials argued that the ad was offensive to Palestinians, and to Muslims as a whole, but a federal judge ruled that prohibiting the ad was a free speech violation.
New York is not the only city plagued by the AFDI advertisements -- the anti-Islamic messages have appeared on public transit nationwide, including Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In response to public outcry about a 2013 AFDI campaign on San Francisco buses, the city’s transit authority opted to donate all revenue from the ads to San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission.
When a judge ruled in March that the Philadelphia transit authority could not reject a particular AFDI ad, the transit authority enacted a blanket ban on all political, public issue and noncommercial ads, according to the Christian Science Monitor.