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Again, anti-Israel ads on RTD buses

AN ADVERTISEMENT that calls Israel an apartheid state and accuses Israel of war crimes was launched on RTD buses Dec. 17.

The advertisement is similar to one that angered Denver Jews and Israel supporters last year, and is sponsored by some of the same groups.

It is paid for by Coloradans for Justice in Palestine, Friends of Sabeel-Colorado and Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC). All three organizations support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

According to the campaign organizers, the release of the advertisement is timed to mark the sixth anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, or the 2008-2009 Gaza War.

In 2013, community leaders believed the advertisement was launched to coincide with the Jewish National Fund’s annual convention, which took place in Denver last October.

The advertisement will appear on seven RTD buses: numbers 9320RS, 9374C, 9321C, 9325RS, 9323C, 9324RS and 9316RS, which are assigned to various routes depending on the day.

One of these routes will likely be the 15 and 15 Limited, a central route that runs crosstown on Colfax, according to Scott Reed, RTD’s assistant general manager of communications.

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In 2010, SeaMAC planned to run a nearly identical advertisement on 12 King County Metro (Seattle) buses. After wide public objection, the advertisement was pulled, according to the Seattle Times. Protesters were concerned that the advertisements would inflame bigotry against Jews and Jewish organizations.

SeaMAC has since run other advertisement campaigns on Seattle buses that focused on the rights of Palestinians, not Israel’s “war crimes,” as the Denver ad alleges.

In October of this year, the advertisement planned for Denver ran in Portland, Ore., also coordinated and funded in part by SeaMAC.

CRAFTING A response to such campaigns can be complicated.

“We’re always weighing the effects of what we might do,” Janet Sherman, Israel and JCRC program director at JEWISHcolorado told the Intermountain Jewish News. “Of bringing more attention to the campaign.”

That concern is echoed by Michal Peleg Uziyahu, Israel emissary to JEWISHcolorado.

“We’re always monitoring. If we know of an action in advance, we try to address it. Once it’s already out we consider how can we draw the least amount of attention to it as possible.”

A large institutional and public response could give the organizers of the advertisement “exactly the attention they want, which we want to avoid,” she says.

“We have a process in place,” says Sherman. JCRC’s rapid response team is in the process of considering a response to the advertisement.

Speaking to the IJN, Scott Levin, ADL regional director, called the advertisement “inappropriate” and described the group behind it, Coloradans for Justice in Palestine, as “a group that normally talks to itself, and they’re trying to provoke a larger response.”

The ADL has not reached out to the groups behind the advertisements because “they’re a group that clearly has an agenda, with arguments that we don’t believe are well founded,” Levin answers.

Sherman considers this advertisement part of the BDS movement and says that JEWISHcolorado is “actively involved with fighting BDS.” She called the advertisement “misleading” and provides “no account of the Gaza conflict,” or if the photo  in the advertisement even took place during the Gaza conflict.

“It’s taken out of context.”

FROM RTD’S perspective, “There’s very little if anything we can do because of First Amendment issues,” Scott Reed says. “What we can do is make sure the ad clearly states who paid for it,” which the current ad does.

Both the ADL and JEWISHcolorado have dialogued with RTD in the past on this issue, particularly when the similar ad campaign ran last year.

“RTD believes they have an obligation to allow the advertising to be presented under the First Amendment,” says Levin. “And we have the right to point out the inaccuracies.”

Which is exactly what local pro-Israel groups did in response to the 2013 ad. JEWISHcolorado, Americans Against Terrorism and StandWithUs all launched their own ad campaigns, all supportive of Israel and some countering the specific claim that Israel carries out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Whether similar action will be taken this year by local groups is not yet certain. StandWithUS told the IJN it is planning to respond. The Los-Angeles based pro-Israel group countered the same advertisement campaign when it ran in Portland earlier this year.

It will be the third time StandWithUs take such action in Denver.

In a statement to the IJN, Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said about the ad campaign: “Anti-Israel activists continuously try to undermine American support for Israel with campaigns that misrepresent Israel and its history.”

Like Sherman, Rothstein says that such campaigns blame “Israel alone for the lack of peace . . . [and ignore] the actions of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that controls Gaza, which is openly sworn to Israel’s destruction in word and deed. Operations such as Cast Lead and Protective Edge were undertaken to protect Israel and its citizens, as any country would do.”

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher | shana@ijn.com


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