SEATTLE —King County Metro Transit’s acceptance of a bus ad alleging “Israeli war crimes” has sparked complaints, including one from King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer.
Von Reichbauer, warning County Executive Dow Constantine in a public letter Monday that “dangerous language can create dangerous environments in a society,” asked him to review the transit agency’s decision to accept the ad.
Constantine said in a statement he has asked the agency to review its policies on non-commercial ads, saying interest groups sometimes leverage a small ad buy into news coverage “worth many times their investment. …”
“These provocative ads bring in a negligible amount of revenue, but cost hundreds of hours (in) staff time to address the intended controversy — time that is better spent providing bus service.”
Constantine spokesman Frank Abe declined to say whether the executive believes Metro Transit should have accepted the “war crimes” ad or whether it accurately portrays the situation in the Middle East.
“This is not about one particular ad. It’s about the broader policy question of what kinds of advertising can or should Metro Transit accept,” Abe said.
The large ad, placed by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, is scheduled to appear on the sides of 12 buses serving Seattle routes next week. The group, which is seeking tax-exempt nonprofit status, paid $2,760 for the ad to run for one month.
A photo showing people examining a partially collapsed multistory building, appears next to these words:
“ISRAELI WAR CRIMES
“YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
A news release from the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign said the bus ad was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Israel’s 2008 assault on Gaza.
Ed Mast, spokesman for the group sponsoring the ad, said it is meant to point out the United States’ “one-sided support” for Israel.
“I think it communicates that this is not a radical idea anymore, this is not a fringe movement. Public opinion is changing as more and more people in this country are coming to understand the truth of what’s happening between Israelis and Palestinians,” Mast said.
Von Reichbauer’s letter, citing Naveed Haq’s fatal shooting of one woman and the wounding of five others at the Jewish Federation building in Seattle in 2006, said the bus ad appears to violate a Metro ad policy that rejects material that may lead to a “breach of public safety, peace and order. …
“I am a strong advocate of freedom of speech and a strong believer of common sense,” von Reichbauer wrote.
Asked whether the ad could incite violence, Mast said, “My experience is that those who want to defend Israel right or wrong want also to stop dialogue, stop discussion, stop education, stop public awareness, and will use a wide range of tactics, and this is one.”
Metro Transit spokeswoman Linda Thielke, asked if the ad violates county standards, replied, “That’s not my decision, but at this point it does meet our current standards.” A spokesman for Constantine said he would issue a statement on the ad.
Thielke said her office had received phone calls and 100 e-mails protesting the ad since KING-TV reported on it Friday.
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