Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), won a major victory on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) must allow AFDI’s new ad that quotes Hamas TV saying “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah” to run on its subway cars and buses.
The image accompanying the Hamas quote depicts a young man wearing a checkered headscarf over a statement reading, “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?” A disclaimer at the bottom states that the ad is “a paid advertisement sponsored by” AFDI and “does not imply MTA’s endorsement.”
Geller tweeted triumphantly, “Congrats! This is a triumph for liberty and free speech.” AFDI promised on its website, “With our NY win, our ads will make their debut on New York buses in the coming weeks. We want to run 100. Help us make that happen.”
— Pamela Geller (@PamelaGeller) April 21, 2015
MTA Security Director Raymond Diaz had argued that the MTA should eschew running the ads because they might trigger violence against Jews, writing, “What matters is not AFDI’s intent, but how the ad would be interpreted,” he wrote. He added that because the ad asked, “What is yours?” the ad could be interpreted as a “call to violence,” because it mocked ads run by the Muslim group CAIR, which never ran on the MTA in New York, but did appear in several cities across the nation.
AFDI responded to Diaz by asserting that its posters had not catalyzed any violence in Chicago and San Francisco, prompting Diaz to postulate that New York had a different history, as it was “the prime terror target” and that the “terrorist security threat” had increased since 2013.
But Koetl sided with AFDI, writing that MTA officials “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements… Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads — offensive as they may be — are still entitled to First Amendment protection.” He added, “The defendants admit that the actual intention of the advertisement is not to advocate the use of force, but to parody the CAIR ‘My Jihad’ campaign and to criticize Hamas and radical Islam. However, they argue that a reasonable New Yorker would not read the advertisement this way, but would instead read it as advocating the killing of Jewish people. The defendants’ theory is thoroughly unpersuasive.”
The MTA has been battling AFDI for years. The MTA tried to ban an AFDI ad that opposed building a mosque at Ground Zero, but after the American Freedom Law Center sued the MTA, the MTA capitulated. In 2011, the MTA permitted ads to run on its subways stating, “End U.S. military aid to Israel.” AFDI responded with an ad stating, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The MTA refused to run AFDI’s ad, arguing that it was demeaning to Muslims and Palestinians. AFDI sued and won in court; the ads were then displayed.
Despite the fact that AFDI simply quoted Hamas TV, the Washington Post attempted to limn AFDI as an extremist organization while downplaying the murderous inclinations of Hamas. The Post wrote, “AFDI is not your traditional free speech organization, however… The Southern Poverty Law Center considers AFDI an “anti-Muslim” hate group.” The Southern Poverty Law Center is the same group that put Dr. Ben Carson on its “extremist watch list” in 2015 and Senator Rand Paul on the same list in 2013.
The Post acted as though the violence promulgated by Hamas was just a silly off-shoot of their wackiness, attributing the quote about killing Jews to “the Palestinian group’s odd blend of violence and music videos.”
The Post also used CAIR, a Muslim advocacy group with terrorist ties, as an example of those criticizing AFDI, writing, “AFDI’s ads have also drawn objections from Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil liberties group that promotes the rights of Muslims and better relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, launched its own public relations campaign to combat AFDI.” Ironically, CAIR tried to erase its ties to Hamas in 2009 from trial records when a federal judge ruled that CAIR had ties to the terrorist group.