The discovery of hundreds of posters marking Israel Apartheid Week in London Tube cars sparked a commotion in Jerusalem on Monday, with senior administration officials, as well as members of the opposition, contacting their British counterparts demanding answers.
A spokesman for Transport for London, the local transit authority, said later Monday that the posters were unauthorized “vandalism” and were being removed.
“Over 500 London tube trains plastered with posters for the 4 million passengers to read” as part of a guerrilla advertising campaign, Brighton BDS, a pro-Palestinian group tweeted on Sunday evening.
(Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid MK, shows an image of the anti-Israel posters put up in London. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The signs in question accused British security company G4S, which works closely with Israeli security services, of assisting with the detention of 500 Palestinian children without trial and asserted that the BBC is “biased in favor of Israel,” valuing the lives of Israelis over those of Palestinians in its reporting.
The campaign also castigated British companies supplying military supplies to Israel, stating they contributed to the “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza and that they “directly profit from Israeli apartheid and contribute to the militarized collective punishment of Palestinians.
The issue quickly became a political one in Israel, with both the prime minister and the opposition taking credit for their removal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold, who was in London on Monday, to demand that the British government have the signs removed.
“Whoever says we don’t act is not telling the truth,” he said at a Likud faction meeting.
Netanyahu referred to earlier comments by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who took credit for the signs’ removal, after asking London Mayor Boris Johnson to do so.
Johnson reassured Lapid by phone that the signs were unauthorized and will be taken down, instructing Transport for London to take immediate action.
Speaking at a Yesh Atid faction meeting, Lapid said: “This morning, residents of London entered the Underground and found a series of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel signs calling us an apartheid state, accusing us of torturing children, or murder, of terrible things.
“Since the Israeli government, as usual, did nothing, I talked to Johnson, a great friend of Israel, and explained to him that the State of Israel will not tolerate such things,” Lapid stated. “It turns out that it is possible to fight for Israel. We can win, we can achieve, we can defend ourselves, but to do that, we have to work at it... We just have to do something.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said of the signs that “the inciters do not rest for a moment.”
“The hateful signs against Israel... are a display of hypocrisy. Of course the killing of Palestinians is the star, but there is not one word about [Palestinian] terrorism and violence,” he added.
Edelstein continued: “Dear BDS activists, lying won’t help you. We are here to stay, and we believe that we are just and moral.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) called for the entire political spectrum to fight the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, saying it seeks to destroy Israel.
“Israel has to isolate them and not let other protest movements join them,” she said. “Israel is not an apartheid state and we in the Zionist Union will make sure it will not be one, because we will separate from the Palestinians. We will have a Jewish and democratic state, and they will have their own state.”
Speaking on behalf of several Jewish organizations, a spokesman for the London Jewish Forum on Monday afternoon called the posters “awful smears that do nothing to contribute to peace and dialogue, placing significant strains on inter-community relations across London.”
“They are an act of vandalism, seeking to undermine the UK’s relationship with Israel and designed to foster discomfort. We welcome Transport for London’s commitment to quickly remove them.”
The British Zionist Federation likewise posited that the signs’ “grotesque, reductionist and inaccurate portrayals of the issue” could cause subsequent problems for the local Jewish community.
Their assertions, such as that “Israel is not only involved in massacres, but also in effect controls the subsequent media coverage – would undoubtedly have resulted in an increase in community tensions,” asserted Paul Charney, the group’s chairman.
London experienced a massive surge in anti-Semitism in 2015, with anti-Semitic incidents up more than 60 percent over the previous year.
According to figures released late last year by the London Metropolitan Police, 483 anti-Semitic crimes were recorded during the 12-month period ending November 15, while only 299 such incidents were recorded during the corresponding period in 2014, marking an increase of 61.5 percent.
Not everybody agreed with the decision to speak out loudly against the signs, however, with a community source telling The Jerusalem Post it is “self-defeating and very foolish to elevate this publicity stunt by a small group into a matter of international importance.”
Meanwhile, in the US, an advertising agency has announced it will also remove a billboard calling for a boycott of Israel following a public outcry.
Lamar Advertising, which leases billboards throughout the country, announced in a Facebook post on Friday it would remove the Chicago billboard “as soon as possible.” Earlier in the day, also in a statement on Facebook, the company said it had received a “large number” of social media comments and hundreds of telephone calls protesting the billboard, located on a major highway near O’Hare Airport.
The billboard, sponsored by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, or SEAMAC, is part of the BDS movement. It read: “Boycott Israel until Palestinians have equal rights.”
JTA contributed to this report.