Latest update: September 25th, 2012
Pamela Geller, conservative commentator and blogger provocateur, is the executive director of the American Freeedom Defense Initiative. AFDI created and paid for an ad campaign to run in several urban transit systems, in response to anti-Israel ads that ran in the same spaces.
The AFDI ads contain a paraphrase from the philosopher Ayn Rand: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” It concludes with: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The ads are already running on the sides of San Francisco buses, they began running today, September 24th, in New York City, and they were scheduled to begin appearing in the Washington, D.C. metro system. However, the DC system balked, citing the violent rioting by Muslims allegedly inflamed by a YouTube video which presents an unflattering view of Mohammad, so Geller initiated an emergency court action at the end of last week to enforce her First Amendment rights.
Because there is so much misinformation both about Geller and her ad, The Jewish Press asked her to explain what her ad means, why it is scheduled to run this week, what the responses to it have been and, most importantly, why she continues to express her views so publicly, when she is repeatedly condemned by virtually the entire spectrum of mainstream media and even by other Jewish and pro-Israel groups.
First, let’s get the chronology and the geography straight.
In late 2010, in Seattle, Washington, anti-Israel groups sought to run advertisements on the side of municipal buses reading: “Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work. Stop30billion-Seattle.org.” Just before the anti-Israel ads were about to go up, the county executive crafted a new policy banning all non-commercial advertisements. The new policy enabled the municipality to reject not only the anti-Israel ad, but also two counter-ads that had been submitted, one of which was one proposed by Geller, the other one offered by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
September, 2011, New York
Last September, another series of anti-Israel ads went up in various transit systems including the one in New York City. This ad shows two smiling dads – one Israeli, one “Palestinian,” with their young daughters. The ad copy: “Be on our side. We’re on the side of peace and Justice. End U.S. military aid to Israel.” In other words, American tax dollars is being used to support Israeli militancy and injustice. These ads ran in 18 NYC subway stops for a month, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
That same month, Geller’s organization, AFDI, submitted the anti-Jihad ad. The MTA refused to run it, claiming the ad violated its advertising standards because it “demeans[s] an individual or group of individuals.” AFDI claimed that rejection violated the U.S. Constitution. On September 227, 2011, AFDI, Pamela Geller, and AFDI’s associate director, Robert Spencer, filed suit against the MTA claiming that the transit agency’s no-demeaning standard constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” and is unconstitutional and therefore the MTA’s rejection of AFDI’s ad unlawfully restricted their free speech.
September 2012, New York
On July 20, 2012, Judge Englemayer, the federal district court judge in New York before whom the matter was heard, ruled that the MTA’s prohibition on “demeaning” language is unconstitutional and the ad must run. Significantly, the court ruled that
the AFDI Ad is not only protected speech—it is core political speech. The Ad expresses AFDI’s pro-Israel perspective on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, and implicitly calls for a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy with regard to that conflict. The AFDI Ad is, further, a form of response to political ads on the same subject that have appeared in the same space. As such, the AFDI Ad is afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.
While AFDI was the victor in the case, Judge Engelmayer threw more than a few crumbs to the ad’s opponents.
For example, there was a fundamental disagreement over the use of the term “savage” – Geller claims it refers only to those committing acts of barbarism against innocent victims in the name of Islam. Judge Englemayer, however, held that a reasonable person could conclude the term referred simply to Muslims.
What’s more, the judge practically wrote a recipe for the MTA to follow for rewriting its advertising policy so that a ban on an ad like AFDI’s could, in the future be upheld by a court.
But it would be wrong to conclude that while AFDI may have won the (legal) battle, it lost the war, because AFDI’s ad was specifically created to counter anti-Israel ads. If there is an MTA policy that constitutionally prohibits AFDI-like ads, presumably it will also cover anti-Israel ads. If not, AFDI will surely respond with another counter to any such permissible anti-Israel ads.
AFDI’s ads began running today, as the MTA conceded that under its “existing ad standards as modified by the injunction, the MTA is required to run the ad.” However, there were numerous reports that the MTA is planning on revising its standards in an executive sessions scheduled for this week.
San Francisco, August – September, 2012
The San Francisco Bay Area Transit system also played host last year to ads that called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, claiming Israel to be unfair and unjust. AFDI’s anti-Jihad ads began running on the sides of buses in San Francisco on August 7, at least in part based on the New York federal judge’s July 20 decision.
However, two things have since happened. First, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced it will give all of the proceeds from AFDI’s ads to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to support “educational activities.” Secondly, although the Muni is apparently convinced that banning AFDI’s ads would violate the First Amendment, yesterday it began running a disclaimer ad next to every one of AFDI’s ads, which is, according to Geller’s website Atlas Shrugs,
a first in outdoor advertising history, next to our pro-freedom, anti-jihad ads. Their disclaimer reads: “SFMTA Policy Prohibits Discrimination Based On National Origin, Religion and Other Characteristics and Condemns Statements That Describe Any Group As Savages.” Really? Were the Nazis savages? The Taliban? Hamas? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Daniel Pearl’s beheaders? The Fogel family’s cold blooded murderers?
Never one to rest on her laurels, Geller’s AFDI immediately responded with ads placed on the sides of San Francisco buses stating: “Why is the city of San Francisco enforcing Sharia law? San Francisco is running disclaimers next to our pro-Israel ads. Why didn’t they run them next to vicious anti-Israel ads? Stop Anti-Semitism in San Francisco government.”
Washington, D.C., September 2012
Washington, D.C. is another transit system in which anti-Israel ads ran last year. AFDI chose to run its anti-Jihad ad in the District, and on September 6 entered into a contract with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to run the ad beginning on September 24. However, on September 18, Geller was contacted and informed that “due to the situations happening around the world at this time, we are postponing the start of this program to a future date to be determined.”
The “situations happening around the world” are the violent riots by Muslims which were set off, some claim, by the airing on YouTube of the video, “The Innocence of Muslims.” That video depicts the Islamic prophet Mohammed as a pedophile and a violence-loving man which is considered blasphemy by strict Muslims.
Although the WMATA is refusing to run the ads, out of “concern for public safety,” the New York City police department spokesperson Paul Browne told a reporter that they “were not anticipating adding any security” to the subways while the ads are up, and that they had “not received any threats or reports of violence relating to them.”
On September 20, AFDI brought a lawsuit seeking an injunction action by the federal district court in Washington, D.C. to require the transit authority to run her ads now, during the time period in which they were contracted to be run. Once again, AFDI’s attorneys are claiming viewpoint discrimination, a classic violation of the First Amendment. AFDI’s Complaint against the WAMTA states:
The WMATA’s speech restriction is based on the perceived negative response that Plaintiffs’ message might receive from certain viewers based on its content and viewpoint. However, a viewer’s reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. This is known as a “heckler’s veto,” which is impermissible under the First Amendment.
When asked for a comment on the controversy, Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University Law school and an expert in constitutional and international law, had this to say:
The DC Metro is obviously trying to avoid trouble by granting foreign extremists a veto on American speech. They also seem to be using the flimsy pretext that anti-American riots are linked to particular speech by Americans to try to override the First Amendment.
So here is the lineup on Monday, September 24, 2012.
- The anti-Jihad ads are running in San Francisco, but with equal-sized disclaimers put up by the San Francisco transit agency running alongside them, and AFDI’s counter-counter-counter-ads running on still other buses.
- The anti-Jihad ads are running in New York City, after nearly a year-long delay during which AFDI had to sue the MTA in order for its First Amendment rights to be upheld.
- The anti-Jihad will not run in Washington, D.C. until it is ordered to by the federal court in which AFDI has filed suit to enforce its First Amendment rights.
In most of the dozens of stories that have already been written about AFDI’s ads, Geller and her ads are harshly criticized, although some, grudgingly, agree that the US Constitution protects Geller’s political speech. The most consistent critics quoted by the media are representatives of groups like the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR consistently attacks Geller and her organizations as “designated hate groups,” and describes itself as a “civil rights group.” The “hate group” designation of Geller’s group was one made by the now frequently discredited Southern Poverty Law Center. On the other hand, U.S. government representatives have described CAIR as a front group for Hamas. CAIR was named on a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the largest terrorism-finance trial in U.S. history. Although an appellate court later ruled the list itself should not have been made public, the designation of the group was never in question. That court opinion stated that “the government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR” and other groups “with Hamas.”
Another frequent critic of the anti-Jihad ads are representatives from the virulently anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace, a leader in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Both the anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union agree that the ads are protected by the First Amendment, although both hastened to distance themselves from the ads with the executive director of the New York City ACLU, Donna Lieberman, describing them as “patently offensive.” However, Lieberman added that it was important the ads run because it would be more offensive to “ violate the guarantee of free expression of all ideas regardless of how distasteful they are,” she said.
The ADL website has a page devoted to Geller on which it refers to her as a “conspiracy theorist” and her positions as “virulently anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Abe Foxman, executive director of the ADL said that Geller’s anti-Jihad ads are “bigoted,” “anti-Muslim” and “highly offensive and inflammatory.” Foxman disagreed with the ACLU’s Lieberman, as well as with Judge Englemayer, and said that “continuing to run the ad is irresponsible.”
When Geller was asked by The Jewish Press what Jewish or pro-Israel groups have been publicly supportive of the anti-Jihad ads, she could only come up with “a few Zionist Organization of America districts.” That’s it. She added, “the same kind of submission and acquiescence to annihilationist rhetoric we saw in pre-war Germany.”
When asked to compare the televised ads that ran in Pakistan with statements by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton in an attempt to make clear that the United States was not involved in making the”Innocence of Muslims” movie and that it does not represent Americans’ attitudes towards Islam with her own ad anti-Jihad ad, Geller had this to say:
What did Obama achieve by running apology pro-sharia campaign ads in Pakistan? He sanctioned the motive. He sanctioned the brutal, anti-human blasphemy laws under the sharia. The result? A Pakistani minister has issued $100,000 bounty for the head of an American filmmaker.
Geller is regularly referred to as an anti-Muslim bigot, a term she considers highly offensive, and, she believes, reveals who are the real bigots. Geller says she is highly, justifiably critical of people who commit unspeakable acts of violence against innocent civilians – people who are savages, that’s her point – in the name of Islam, but she doesn’t consider Muslims who do not commit such acts and who are opposed to such activity to be savages.
“They are the ones blurring the lines, not me,” and Geller adds, “I believe that Muslims are more victimized by Islamic supremacists than even non-Muslims. Muslims as well as non-Muslims would benefit if free societies prevail over the Islamic supremacist imperative to impose Sharia.”
Geller points out that in order to be a racist, you have to be opposed to a particular group of people, and asks, “What race is ‘jihad terror against innocent civilians?’”
Involved in communications for most of her adult life, Geller worked in publishing at The New York Daily News and became the assistant publisher of The New York Observer. After 9/11 she began learning as much as she could about the kind of people who would commit such acts.
In late 2004, Geller began her blog, Atlas Shrugs, which, over time, developed into one of the most visited and active single-author political websites on the Internet. Her name became well known in connection with her efforts, along with many others, to stop what was known as the Ground Zero Mosque from being built near where the World Trade Center Towers were destroyed, which she refers to as “hallowed ground.” She also received widespread media coverage for her support of Rifqa Bary, a teenage girl who had converted from Islam to Christianity and in 2009 ran away from her home in Ohio, fleeing to the home of a Christian pastor and his wife in Florida.
The mother of four daughters, Geller was born, raised and lives in New York.
When asked by The Jewish Press what it is she most wants people to learn from her anti-Jihad ads, and her experiences in fighting to get them aired, she said: “Rewarding Islamic violence, intimidation and brutality sanctions the motive and emboldens jihad.”
Pamela Geller on CNN: Erin Burnett cuts segment at Hamas-CAIR description, Audio secretly taped:
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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