Anti-Islamist Ads in NYC Subways Get Little Reaction From Riders

Most subway riders in New York’s Times Square subway station walked past both Cyrus McGoldrick and the anti-Islamist wall advertisement he was protesting.

It reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” The ad is one of 10 purchased for $6,000 by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, lost a court battle to block the ads, which went up today.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that everyone is walking by this and ignoring it,” said McGoldrick, an advocacy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' New York chapter, who was handing out leaflets. “The most distasteful speech is the most protected, and so we stand by that. What we see is that it is our responsibility to counter that message with something productive, with something inclusive, rather than something that is so poisonous and hateful.”

The MTA initially refused to allow the posters to be put up, citing a violation of its policy against ads that are demeaning. In a July 20 decision, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan ruled the MTA’s actions unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment.

“We understand the sensitivities that are raised by this ad, and that’s why we initially declined to run it,” Adam Lisberg, an MTA spokesman, said in an interview.

Film Protests

He said the agency’s board may discuss revising its advertising policy when it meets this week. The MTA said the posters are just 10 out of 11,000 through the system. Similar ads from AFDI, which the MTA didn’t find demeaning, have run on station platforms for the agency’s Metro-North commuter trains in the northern suburbs.

The appearance of the ads follows protests and attacks on U.S. missions in North Africa, one of which claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed at the consulate in Benghazi. The protests were sparked by a film made in the U.S. that is seen as insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

“If you are pro-Israel, this is abhorrent,” said commuter Rebecca Klinger, 61, a massage therapist who said she lived in Israel for a year. “It is contrary to the basic values that Israel was founded on. So many suffered in the Holocaust because of racism. It’s painful to see supporters of Israel doing the same things. Nazis thought Jews weren’t human, and this ad implies some humans are savages.”

The ads are the brainchild of Pamela Geller, the executive director for AFDI and publisher of a blog called Atlas Shrugs. She once headed a campaign against an Islamic center near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Last week her group filed a similar lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is also seeking to block the ads.

“I intend to run these across the country,” Geller said in an interview. “Anywhere that won’t run them will be legally challenged.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Max Raskin in New York at mraskin5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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