An anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli lobby group has stirred controversy in San Francisco with a series of provocative ads on 50 buses, with images of Adolf Hitler accompanied by a demand to stop all aid to Islamic countries and an appeal to “stop the hate.”
The ads are the latest effort by the pro-Israel, Houston-based American Freedom Defense Initiative(AFDI) to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment across the US. The group is well-known for its previous Islamophobic advertising campaigns in major US cities.
The ads appeared in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocities in France, where attacks on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket killed 17 people, including two police officers.
“Islamic Jew hatred,” the ads read. “It’s in the Quran.”
The ads on buses operated by Muni, San Francisco’s municipal transportation agency, feature an archive photograph of Hitler talking with a Muslim leader from Palestine in the first half of the 20th century, Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini, who was a prominent Palestinian Arab nationalist and critic of Zionism.
SFGate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, described the ads as equating Islam with Nazism.
Pamela Geller, founder of the AFDI, told Reuters she had been working on the San Francisco ads since last spring.
“It’s the only way to leapfrog over the media,” she was reported as saying. “It’s the only way to talk directly to the American people.”
AFDI’s previous controversial campaigns in New York, Washington DC and San Francisco sparked outrage from both politicians and civil rights activists.
A 2012 AFDI ad campaign proclaimed: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
In March 2013, the group ran ads bearing a picture of Osama Bin Laden, calling for people to oppose jihadists.
San Francisco authorities have criticized the ads, but have not sought to ban them, citing freedom of speech rights.
“We understand and apologize that people could be offended by these ads,” Paul Rose, a spokesman for Muni, said Tuesday. “Neither the city nor Muni endorse the content of these negative ads. However, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, including speech that is considered offensive,” SFGate reported Rose as saying.
— Alex Carter (@alexblueneon) January 12, 2015
“Refusing placement would almost certainly result in a lawsuit that forces the city to run the ads under court order, and we believe taxpayer dollars should be used to improve transit and the overall transportation network – not on lawsuits,” Rose said.
Last year, the AFDI sued New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to get similar anti-Islamic ads running.
American Freedom Defense Initiative pro-Israel lobby group pays MTA to put up scathing racist ads in NYC transport pic.twitter.com/XKb3JSNIHR
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The Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized the American Freedom Defense Initiative as a hate group.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has accused AFDI of provoking public outrage intentionally to raise money, and has previously run rival ads confronting the AFDI’s Islamophobic posters. This time, it declined to do so.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, commented on AFDI’s Geller, saying: “We’re not going to chase her from city to city trying to undo the hatred she promotes,” he said. “We’d be doing little else. She seems to have an unending capacity for the promotion of hatred.”
The majority of people who encounter such posters will see the ads as “hate and intolerance and fear-mongering,” Hooper said.