The Deir Yassin Remembered Blog

Israeli War Crimes Ads Banned in Seattle‏

Posted on January 8th, 2011 at 9:56 pm by

The article below by Michelle J. Kinnucan is reposted from Veterans Today.

[T]here is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. —from the withdrawal letter of Ambassador Charles W. Freeman, Jr.

Mainstream Jewish community organizations in Seattle plumbed the depths of dishonor this past week in a successful campaign to prevent a small fraction of the King County Metro Transit agency’s 1,200 buses from displaying ads saying “Israeli War Crimes, Your Tax Dollars at Work” (see photo at right). But the dishonor was not confined to the Jewish community, King County elected officials also sank low, caving to pressure and jettisoning the Constitution in just under seven days.

The chronology is short, but decidedly un-sweet: Last summer, inspired by a similar campaign in Albuquerque, some folks got together to form the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SMAC). In due time, they designed an ad, raised money, and signed a contract with Metro’s advertising agency.

The ads were set to run for four weeks on the sides of twelve Metro buses beginning on the second anniversary of the first day of the Hanukkah Massacre a.k.a. Operation Cast Lead, i.e. Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights the assault killed 1,417 Palestinians, a figure that included 926 civilians, of whom 313 were children.

A furor ensued when Seattle TV station KING 5 broke the story of the ads on Friday, December 17, 2010. The KING 5 report includes a segment featuring King County Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke saying: “We can’t reject it based on any reasons that we have established over the thirty-six years we’ve been accepting advertising.” In text accompanying the video report Thielke is quoted saying: “As a government, we are mindful of the provisions in state and federal constitutions to protect freedom of speech.”

Hilary Bernstein of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) appears on camera protesting: “We’re really dismayed.” But, overall, so far, so good: The contract’s signed, the ADL complains, and the County stands firm on grounds of policy and freedom of speech. Case closed, right?

Wrong. By Monday, December 20, KING 5 was reporting: “There is so much outrage over a planned anti-Israel billboard campaign that Metro is now evaluating its advertising policies.” The report shows King County Councilmember Peter von Reichbauer asserting: “I know hate when I see it and a number of people in my community, a number of people in King County see hate in this advertisement.”

The story mentions several times that County attorneys agree the ads are protected under the First Amendment. Yet, von Reichbauer calls for Metro to hearken to the complaints of supporters of a foreign country and “reconsider” its decision to uphold freedom of speech.

In a letter to King County Executive Dow Constantine, von Reichbauer wrote:

”I received numerous expressions of concern over the weekend from many of King County residents over the proposed advertising on Metro buses referencing the state of Israel. … I ask the question why a public transportation system would advertise polarizing political statements. … I believe very strongly that dangerous language can create dangerous environments in a society. … this proposed bus advertising needs to be reviewed and reevaluated. For $1,800 [sic] on December 27, twelve buses will begin advertising material that can incite a ‘breach of public safety, peace and order.’ ”

A local news blog covered the story, reporting: ” ‘This material is directed at a group, and it’s insulting to that group,’ Von Reichbauer told PubliCola by phone this afternoon.” Echoing a hoax letter attributed to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. von Reichbauer continues: ” ‘When you talk about Israel, you are talking about Jewish Americans. … King County should not provide a forum for a message of hate. … I think King County could have looked at its own language and considered whether this could create harm to’ Seattle’s Jewish community.”

Also on Monday, the city’s only major newspaper, the Seattle Times, reported:

“Richard Fruchter, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said Metro shouldn’t have accepted the ad.

” ‘We certainly as an organization support the First Amendment right to free speech, but we feel that this violates Metro’s own policy that running ads shouldn’t insult specific groups’ to the point that public safety could be threatened, he said. ” ‘I think that this is an ad that’s designed to insult Israelis and the 50,000 members of the Jewish community, many of whom support Israel,’ Fruchter said.

“Metro policy bars advertising ‘so insulting, degrading or offensive as to be reasonably foreseeable that it will incite or produce imminent lawless action … .’ Metro was advised by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office that the ad doesn’t violate that guideline, Thielke said.”

That same day, County Executive Dow Constantine began to crumble, calling “for a review of Metro Transit policies on non-commercial advertising that appears on buses.” However, his office’s press release still notes:

“Our state and federal constitutions protect speech, including unpopular speech, and limit a government’s ability to regulate advertising content.

“As a government agency, Metro Transit is more constrained than a private party, like a newspaper or TV station, in its ability to reject a particular advertisement. … “Having accepted non-commercial advertising generally since 1973, our attorneys have repeatedly advised that Metro is legally constrained in its ability to accept or reject an advertisement based on the identity of the group purchasing the advertising, or the message.”

That should have settled the matter. It didn’t.

The next day, Tuesday, Jewish Federation chief Richard Fruchter was on the local NPR flagship station, KUOW, calling for Metro to “decide not to run” the ad because he had heard “from so many Jewish community members that this is terribly upsetting to them and they really feel like this is an inciteful [sic] ad, an ad that’s designed with misinformation and is really very anti-Israel”. Then, Fruchter, like von Reichbauer before him (not quoted here), plays the Naveed Haq card.

In 2006, Naveed Haq shot six employees of the Jewish Federation in Seattle, killing one. To bolster his claim of danger to Jews, Fruchter dissembles about the role of the Jewish Federation: “Naveed Haq said, ‘I’m a Muslim-American and I’m angry at Israel.’ That’s why he attacked the Jewish Federation. Now, does that make any sense? No, it doesn’t. We’re not a political organization. We’re an organization that raises funds for Jewish social service and educational programs …”

So, Fruchter wants listeners to believe that Naveed Haq is evidence of a serious threat of incitement to violence against Jews posed by the SMAC ads; even though the SMAC ad makes no mention of Jews . And rhe truth is that the Jewish Federation is “a political organization” and aggressively supportive of Israel and its deadly military campaigns.

Just last month the “Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest [took] up temporary offices at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle … to provide consular services.” During Consul General Akiva Tor’s stay in Seattle he joined the Federation in its efforts to roll back the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods and advocate for a harder US line against Iran.

In late May of this year, the Federation expressed “its support of Madison Market for voting against the proposal” calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Just a few days later, Israeli commandos killed nine unarmed human rights activists in international waters onboard the MV Mavi Marmara.

The very next day, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle was operating as a full-fledged branch of the Israeli Ministry of Propaganda and calling on people to write letters-to-the-editor in support of Israel. The local federation branch also actively supports the Volunteers for Israel program that “helps place people on army bases helping in non-combat areas and in hospitals.”

The specific context of Naveed Haq’s 2006 shooting spree tells an even more compelling story. According to reports in the Mercer Island Reporter and Seattle Times, about 2,000 people gathered on July 23, 2006, at a local park to show “strong support for Israel” eleven days after Israel began its month-long “Operation Just Reward”. “The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle organized the rally and “garnered 40 other sponsors of Jewish organizations, synagogues and businesses.”

Jewish Federation board chair Robin Boehler cheered the crowd on: “This event serves one purpose: to come together as a community to show support for Israel”. During the attack, Israeli forces turned Lebanon into a “free-fire zone,” as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch put it. They also killed over a thousand Lebanese people–mostly civilians and about 30% children under the age of 13, according to UNICEF– injured thousands more and drove nearly a million people from their homes.

The pro-Israel rally occurred five days before Naveed Haq showed up with a gun at the Jewish Federation office. While it does not justify his criminal actions on July 28, 2006, it surely shows that Haq’s murderous rampage was not as senseless as Richard Fruchter would have us believe. Haq was incited by Israel’s deadly assault on Lebanon, an assault the Federation vociferously and publicly supported even as the slaughter continued with the assistance of US-provided bombs.

As Josh Feit and Brendan Kiley reported in The Stranger: “… Haq’s violence exploded inside a political context—the Jewish Federation, Israel’s war in Lebanon … Haq allegedly said. ‘I’m not upset at people. I’m upset at your foreign policy.’ ” As the prosecutor in Haq’s second trial said: “Naveed Haq wasn’t insane – just angry – when he stormed a Seattle Jewish center in 2006, killing one woman and wounding five others as he railed against Israel and demanded to go on CNN.” The day before Haq entered Jewish Federation offices in Seattle, Israel carried out air strikes all across Lebanon, killing numerous civilians.

The irony, of course, is that if Haq had seen ads like SMAC’s on buses, seen evidence that there was a vigorous, democratic national debate about US support of Israel then, just possibly, he may have been dissuaded from his deadly assault. What’s clear is that there’s no evidence that anything like a mere advertisement—and an “anti-Israel” ad at that—on the side of a bus inspired Haq or would inspire others today to attack local Jews or Jewish institutions.

To return to the recent bus ad chronology, a lot of other things happened on Tuesday. Pamela Geller and David Horowitz joined the fray with pro-Israel Metro bus ads. Geller’s Stop Islamization of America ad to read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Islamic jihad.” The David Horowitz Freedom Center ad was to say “Palestinian War Crimes, Your Tax Dollars at Work”.

Also Tuesday, another King County Council member betrayed his oath of office. In an e-mail Reagan Dunn confessed to asking Dow Constantine “to pull the ad”. Dunn found the “ad to be disgusting and hateful” and, invoking the Naveed Haq shooting, argued the ad was “designed” to “incite a ‘breach of public safety, peace and order.’ ”

J Street Seattle also weighed-in, calling on SMAC “to reconsider its advertising campaign” and claiming “The ads accuse Israel of utilizing U.S. aid to commit war crimes. This only serves to inflame tensions and promote division and confusion, rather than to point the way towards a productive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

By Wednesday, December 22, the full court press was on. Senior County officials met with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federation, who “asked” them “to reconsider plans to put an ad on Metro buses alleging ‘Israeli war crimes,’ saying local Jews have good reason to fear it could lead to crimes against them.” In a post-meeting recap e-mail, AJC Regional Director Wendy Rosen wrote: “It is important to note that our community came together and spoke with one voice on this important issue”.

Although a spokesman for County Executive Constantine said “county officials didn’t change their early finding that the anti-Israel ad is consistent with Metro Transit advertising policies” he added, “We’re continually evaluating information as it comes in.” By then the writing was on the wall though, County officials had gotten the message, the First Amendment was roasted to a delicate crisp, and public officials were looking for the right words to cover a betrayal orchestrated by the local unregistered agents of a foreign government–the Jewish State of Israel.

On Thursday, less than a week after KING 5 broke the story, King County officials closed down a public forum because of the outcry of proponents of US aid to Israel and Israeli killing. They scrapped a free speech policy that had stood for 37 years and announced a “halt to the acceptance of any new non-commercial advertising.” In a nice Orwellian twist, the SMAC ad, which had already been accepted was described as “proposed” and then deftly rejected.

The reason for the about-face, according to Dow Constantine: “… a widespread and often vitriolic international debate introduces new and significant security concerns that compel reassessment … I have consulted with federal and local law enforcement authorities who have expressed concern, in the context of this international debate, that our public transportation system could be vulnerable to disruption.”

I opened this article with a quote from Ambassador Charles Freeman and I’ll close with one, too:

“When U.S. interrogators asked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed … why al Qa’ida had done the terrible things it did [on 9/11], he gave a straightforward answer. He said that the purpose was to focus ‘the American people . . . on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people and America’s self-serving foreign policy that corrupts Arab governments and leads to further exploitation of the Arab Muslim people.‘ In Osama Bin Laden’s annual ‘address to the American people’ this September 11, he reiterated: ‘We have demonstrated and stated many times, for more than two-and-a-half-decades, that the cause of our disagreement with you is your support to your Israeli allies who occupy our land of Palestine …‘ ” [emphasis in original].

The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign’s ads were a nonviolent attempt by people of conscience to tell Americans that US support of Israel is immoral and economically costly. That support, and the killing it enables, not our “democracy” or our “freedom,” also incites some people to violence.

As the blatant, ham-handed stifling of debate at the behest of the local Jewish community shows, support for Israel is also a real threat to the democracy and freedom here. Unfortunately, as Noam Chomsky noted in August: “… Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population. … Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. … they want to make sure there’s no critical look at the policies the US (and they themselves) support in the Middle East.”

Michelle J. Kinnucan is a US military veteran. Her writing has previously appeared in CommonDreams.org, Critical Moment, Palestine Chronicle, Arab American News, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Think Tank and elsewhere. Her 2004 investigative report on the Global Intelligence Working Group was featured in Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Pr., 2004) and she contributed a chapter to Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise (Peter Lang, 2006). Click here for her contact information.

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