San Francisco News

Muni condemns controversial bus ad

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Muni has taken the unprecedented step of condemning one of the paid advertisements on several of its buses. It all started with a controversial ad in support of Israel that included some hot-button words like "jihad' and "savages." Friday, the transit agency got involved with its own counter-ad.

The dueling ads appear almost side-by-side on 10 Muni buses. The original ad popped up last week reading "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."

Friday, Muni came back with its response -- a bus card saying its policy prohibits discrimination and it condemns statements that describe any group as savages.

"Obviously we think the ads in place right now are repulsive and they definitely cross the line," Muni spokesperson Paul Rose said. "So there's not a lot we can do in light of the First Amendment."

The group behind the pro-Israel ad calls itself the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Pamela Geller of New York heads the group and she says she's now planning another Muni bus ad.

"Those ads will be calling out the institutionalized and systemic anti-Semitism of the government of San Francisco," she said. "They're clearly picking sides. They should be running disclaimers on every ad, not just mine."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomes Muni's counter-ad as a step in the right direction.

"A lot of the damage has already been done; we have heard from many community members both at our organization and other organizations across the Bay Area who say they don't feel comfortable boarding the buses that carry these ads," CAIR spokesperson Zahra Billoo said.

Geller says the publicity has generated a few thousand dollars for her organization.

"We have seen an increase in fundraising, absolutely, absolutely," Geller said. "What do you think has paid for my counter ads to the discrimination ads that are running counter to my ads?"

"This is someone who's thriving on creating fear of millions, if not billions, of Arabs and Muslims across the world," Billoo said.

Geller says her Muni ad campaign cost about $5,000 and is her First Amendment right. Friday, CAIR sent a letter to Muni asking that the money be used to study the impact of what it calls "hate speech" on Muslim residents of San Francisco.

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