February 3, 2011 in Washington Voices

Downtown property owners advertise anti-Israel views

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Pia Hallenberg photo

Michael Poulin and Marianne Torres paid $800 to have this sign made. The couple own the property where sign is placed.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

This particular commercial sign does get a little lost among fast-food and gas station signs crowding the north side of Interstate 90 near the Maple Street on-ramp. Like the building next to it, it’s brownish and nondescript, but the message on the sign is a strong one: “end 50 years of occupation – Boycott Israel.”

It’s not a billboard, it doesn’t say anything about who put it there, and that made some commuters wonder if it had been paid for by a political group such as the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign. Just before Christmas, that group wanted to purchase bus ads in King County reading, “Israeli War Crimes – Your tax dollars at work.” The King County Transit authority turned down the request.

It turns out this sign has local sponsors: Marianne Torres and Michael Poulin own the property and put up the sign.

“We are supporting the international boycott against Israel that’s several years old,” said Torres.

Torres said the sign cost the couple $800, and they plan to leave it there.

“It’s staying until the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been resolved with some level of justice for Palestine,” Torres said, adding that in her experience, anti-Israel sign campaigns are extremely difficult to pull off using public avenues.

“Sometimes we are told that signs will be vandalized or there are other reasons why they can’t be put up,” said Torres.

Poulin and Torres have an established history as war protesters and Peace and Justice Action League volunteers. She’s a retired social worker, and he has owned several local businesses. In 2003, Poulin turned himself in to the FBI in California, where he was wanted for “attempted damage to an energy facility” – loosening bolts in a high-voltage transmission tower. He plea-bargained.

Torres said the couple has been doing work related to the Palestinian cause for the past 25 years, and that she was in that part of the world just last year.

“To those who are offended by the sign all I have to say is that they can’t possibly be as offended as I was over what I witnessed in Palestine,” Torres said.

Neither the Spokane Visitor and Convention Bureau nor Greater Spokane Incorporated had any comments on the sign.

Yak Research, a skateboard and scooter wholesaler, runs a warehouse out of the building on Torres and Poulin’s property, but has nothing to do with the sign.

Isn’t this sign a bad welcome to visitors to Spokane?

“No, I don’t think so,” said Torres. “I believe it’s an excellent introduction to Spokane. It shows that people in Spokane are concerned about the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.”


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