Massachusetts Transit Authority wins court battle over banned pro-Israel subway ads

Federal judge decides ad calling Palestinians "savages" is "demeaning or disparaging to Muslims or Palestinians."

December 24, 2013 20:04
1 minute read.
boston subway

MBTA subway in Boston.. (photo credit: Adam E. Moreira/Wikimedia Commons)


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The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) won its court battle against a non-profit group aiming to place pro-Israel advertisements at some of Boston's busiest subway stops as well as on and inside the trains, The Boston Globe reported on Monday.

The proposed ad, created by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."

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The MBTA rejected the ad in November on the grounds that it violated their agency advertising guidelines. The transit authority was quickly slapped with a civil rights lawsuit alleging that banning the advertisement was a violation of the AFDI's first and 14th amendment rights.

On Friday, a federal judge sided with the MBTA, saying in the ruling that “it was plausible for the defendants to conclude that the . . . pro-Israel advertisement demeans or disparages Muslims or Palestinians,” the Globe reported.

The AFDI, a New York-based non-profit working against what it sees as the spread of radical Islam in the US, said the ad was in response to pro-Palestinian posters allowed to go up in October, according to Boston Magazine. The ads depicted four maps that showed “the Palestinian loss of land” to Israel between 1946 and 2010 and stated that “4.7 million Palestinians are Classified by the UN as Refugees.”

After receiving complaints that the message was "anti-Israel," the ads were removed by the MBTA, but were later re-posted. The AFDI claimed that the MBTA's refusal to post their counter-advertisement showed that the transit authority was picking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, reported Boston Magazine.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particularly sensitive topic that is likely to arouse strong feelings on both sides of the debate,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “The MBTA, in deciding to open its advertising program to speech on controversial topics, has taken on the difficult task of determining whether speech on that topic crosses the line from being offensive of hurtful, to being demeaning or disparaging such that it can be excluded from the forum.”

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