MANHATTAN (CN) – New Yorkers might not get the parody behind bus and subway ads blaring the words “Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah,” two Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said in a day-long federal court hearing.
Created by the self-styled American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the MTA-spiked advertisements splash a picture of a man wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh next to the supposed quotation from “Hamas MTV.”
Two Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials took the stand here on Tuesday to defend their decision to reject the message as “incitement” and “fighting words” that could inspire the very violence it purportedly condemns.
“In my mind, that’s advocating killing people, and that’s not what we should do,” MTA’s security director Raymond Diaz told the court.
The AFDI has been trying to bring their “Killing Jews” ad to New York City subways after running the campaign in Chicago and San Francisco.
The group and its leader Pamela Geller – a blogger whom the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead” – call the ad a parody of the “MyJihad” campaign by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Sending up that campaign, the “Killing Jews” ad ends: “That’s his jihad. What’s yours?”
CAIR, a Muslim civil rights group, launched its “MyJihad” campaign in an effort to reclaim a tenet of the Muslim faith from violent extremists and those who equate it exclusively with terrorism.
The AFDI’s ads attempts to tar CAIR with allegations, which it has long denied, that its executives support Hamas.
But New Yorkers viewing the parody likely will not get the reference because CAIR’s ads never ran here.
Diaz said that “a much more likely interpretation of AFDI’s ‘Killing Jews’ ad is that it urges Muslims to kill Jews as a religious obligation.”
The advertisement also runs the risk of driving Jews to seek “retaliation,” he told the court.
AFDI’s lawyer David Yerushalmi, who wrote draft legislation that inspired a Tennessee bill seeking to criminalize the Islamic religious code known as Sharia law, insisted that any risk of violence from this ad was overblown.
The “Killing Jews” ad campaigns ran in Chicago and San Francisco without any violence, he noted.
MTA’s lawyer Peter Sistrom noted that New York is a bigger terrorism target than those cities, and has a larger Jewish population.
AFDI has fought for, and often won, the right to run offensive ads like these across the country.
Three years ago, the group was in another room of the same Manhattan courthouse seeking the approval of an ad describing Islamic militants as “savages,” which a different judge found they had the First Amendment right to run.
Courts in Seattle, Philadelphia and Detroit also have reached the same conclusion in different cases, even as the AFDI’s campaigns have drawn criticism from anti-discrimination groups.
The Anti-Defamation League blasted Yerushalmi for his “record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.”
MTA’s director of real estate Jeffrey Rosen, who also testified in the last New York case, said that the AFDI’s latest campaign is in a class by itself.
When asked whether any other ads caused violence, Rosen replied: “I don’t know that there’s ever been an ad like this one.”
Unlike those other ads, the problem with the “Killing Jews” campaign is not just that it’s “controversial and hateful,” lawyer Sistrom added.
“We read the ad as a demand that Muslims attack Jews as an act of religious obligation,” he said.
U.S. District Judge John Keenan, who is hearing the AFDI’s latest case, has not indicated how he would rule, but he seemed skeptical of MTA’s claims that the ads put New Yorkers at risk.
If he issues a preliminary injunction, AFDI will be able to proceed with their campaign.
Attorney Sistrom urged the judge to give his team time to contest the decision, if he decides to rule against MTA.
“If you force us to put up the ad now, that can’t be undone with an appeal,” he said.
Yerushalmi countered that the standard is the opposite under First Amendment law.
“It is irreparable injury every minute my client’s speech is being constrained,” he said.
Proceedings lasted nearly five hours before concluding without a ruling.
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