NEW YORK – Flanked by dirty concrete walls and watchtowers, the silhouette of a defenseless child is portrayed as the hostage of a tall Israeli soldier. They stand on Palestinian ground, the billboard asserts to passersby, by painting the sky above and the earth below with the colors of the Palestinian flag.
Foreign aid is the central target of an aggressive new ad campaign plastered across New York City’s subway system, paid for by the fast-growing American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).
The organization only started in 2005, but it now boasts 14 chapters across the United States.
The $3 billion per year in US tax dollars for Israel must end, the ad demands, in order to end Israeli “apartheid.”
“That silhouette actually comes from a photo,” said Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications for AMP. “We chose that type of imagery just to drive the point home to the American people that the subjection of Palestinians even extends to children.”
Written in the blood-red sky of the ad is a quote from Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land,” he says. “It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
Unsurprisingly, the ad has infuriated national Jewish groups, most of which are based in New York City. The ad campaign started here, and will leave New York after four weeks to alternate through cities nationwide.
San Francisco and Cincinnati are likely next.
“While Americans certainly have a right to free speech and advocacy, the abhorrent allegation of apartheid is both factually incorrect, and morally reprehensible,” said Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, an organization that fights against delegitimization efforts. “Israel is a democracy that includes rights for all citizens from all origins.
Demonizing Israel, as the president made clear, is destructive, not constructive in finding a mutual path to peace in the region and reconciliation in disputed areas.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which has itself been a target of AMP in the past, said that its leadership was “deeply disturbed” by the ad.
“Their ad campaign ignores the complicated nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is part of the campaign to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish state,” the ADL statement read. “It shows a profound lack of sensitivity that they chose the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover to announce this malicious and false ad campaign.”
Dr. Hatem Bazian, AMP’s chairman, said in a press statement that the “racist apartheid policies” of the Jewish state “subject Palestinians on a daily basis to humiliation, deprivation and a loss of their basic rights, including the freedom of movement.”
The release called US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, a “message of dispossession and discrimination not lost on Palestinians.”
But while Bazian’s statement implies a position of AMP on Zionism generally, the organization claims no position on Israel’s right to exist.
“AMP does not take a position on the final solution to the situation in the Middle East. We support the Palestinian people’s right to choose for themselves,” Szremski said. “We’re really focusing on international law. The American public is so largely uninformed on the issue at the moment.”
The AMP campaign comes after what was widely billed as an anti-Muslim campaign, put on by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The conservative organization said in subway advertisements last September, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.
Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried and failed to stop the posting of their ads by taking the organization to court.
“Our ads are focusing strictly on policy and US foreign aid, while as [the American Freedom Defense Initiative] ads are racist and bigoted, and attacking an entire religion,” Szremski said. “I think the differences are very clear.”