Political ads banned by T amid protests of favoritism

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/11/23/political-ads-banned-by-t-amid-protests-of-favoritism/
Stephanie Pollack (State House News Service file photo)

Stephanie Pollack (State House News Service file photo)

BOSTON – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict surfaced Monday as a central theme in two protests: one speaking out against an ad on the MBTA that some say is designed “to demonize Israelis and Jews,” and another urging senators to forgo a planned trip to Israel next month.

After opposing viewpoints on one of the world’s most contentious conflicts came to a head before the MBTA’s management board on Monday afternoon, the T decided to ban political issue advertising on the transit system. The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board also banned advertising for electronic cigarettes.

“This change has been in the works for weeks, several weeks. Long before this particular controversy arose,” MBTA general counsel John Englander said. The new policy was approved unanimously on a voice vote after a closed-door executive session and no public discussion.

Activists opposed to an ad on the MBTA representing that “Israel’s military has killed one Palestinian child every three days” since September 2000 said the ad promoted hate against Jews, and attempted to shout over a man who supported the ad.

“We have the right to criticize government. Every government in the world needs to be able to be criticized,” said Richard Colbath-Hess, of the Palestine Advocacy Project. Colbath-Hess, who said he is Jewish and his father survived the Holocaust, said it is a “mistake” to link anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. He was subjected to shouting from his ideological opponents.

“He’s the cousin of Hitler,” said Daniel Hermon, slapping Colbath-Hess on the back. Hermon also joined those yelling over Colbath-Hess as he spoke to reporters.

Colbath-Hess said there is one ad in the system at the Davis Square MBTA station. Englander said that ad would be disallowed under the new policy going into effect midnight Nov. 30.

Paul Fleishman compared the ad – which depicts a girl in pigtails standing outdoors – to Islamic State recruitment and used it to disparage Palestinian children in comments to the control board.

“If it would be a real Palestinian girl it would have a suicide vest on her. That’s how I know this is probably not a Palestinian girl,” Fleishman said.

Charles Jacobs, who has been accused of Islamophobia by the Council on American Islamic Relations of Massachusetts, told reporters he does not agree that the girl should have worn a suicide vest.

Jacobs said Israel is the victim of Hamas, which shields itself within the Palestinian population to launch attacks against Israeli civilians. He said Israel fires warning shots and takes other measures to attempt to protect Palestinian civilians.

“The Israelis try very, very hard not to kill innocent bystanders,” Jacobs said. He said, “You shouldn’t take money to defame Jews.”

Monica Brilovich said her cousin Daniel Knapp spotted a terrorist with a suicide vest boarding a bus in Israel and he threw himself on the person, dying in the process. Brilovich called the ad “lethal” and asked the MBTA to take it down.

Jacobs asked for an investigation by Gov. Charlie Baker into how the ad was approved and said the person who approved it should be fired. He said the MBTA had disallowed a pro-Israel ad by Pamela Geller, which would advocate opposition to “the savage” in the conflict.

“The guidelines currently allow advertising on controversial subjects of political or social debate, including advertisements that are critical of the United States government or foreign governments,” Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes said in an email.

Baker, without knowing the results of the board’s vote happening concurrently, told reporters in his office that he supported a ban.

“I don’t want to prejudge the decision that’s going to be made by them, but I certainly think it’s an appropriate conversation for the fiscal management and control board to have and I wouldn’t be disappointed if they decided that we were going to get out of the business of supporting politically charged advertising,” Baker said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack previously told the News Service banning political issue ads wouldn’t likely have a fiscal impact on the T. The system faces a $170 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

Earlier Monday, armed with a petition signed by 1,400 people, members of activist groups visited the State House to try and halt a trip to Israel that 10 senators are expected to take next month.

The groups, including Boston Alliance for Water Justice, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and United for Justice with Peace, said the group leading the trip — Jewish Community Relations Council — will portray only one side of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“They will get a distorted picture of what is happening in Israel,” Ann Glick, from United for Justice with Peace, said. “The people who are going on this trip have to start asking some real hard questions. What are they seeing? Who’s doing this? And open their eyes and look at what really is going on there.”

The groups delivered copies of the petition — which as of Monday morning had been electronically signed 1,400 times — to the office of each legislator scheduled to participate in the trip and to Gov. Charlie Baker’s office.

Along with Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Sens. Michael Barrett, Eileen Donoghue, Benjamin Downing, Anne Gobi, John Keenan, Barbara L’Italien, Richard Ross, Karen Spilka and Daniel Wolf are expected to make the Dec. 3-13 trip to Israel.

“The upcoming trip to Israel gives each participant the opportunity to learn more about the culture, history, business connections to Massachusetts, and areas of concern in the region,” Rosenberg said in a statement. “Citizen diplomacy is a powerful tool in building understanding about the challenges and opportunities facing national governments. The more we learn and foster relationships, the greater the likelihood that national governments will listen to the concerns of their residents.”

A spokesman for Rosenberg said that the JCRC is organizing the trip’s itinerary, and no taxpayer dollars will be spent.

“The visit will consist of government to government meetings, meetings with the Israeli business community and visits to local cultural and historical sites. No taxpayer dollars are being used to finance the trip,” spokesman Pete Wilson previously told the News Service in an email.

Nidal al-Azraq, who said he grew up in Palestine and now lives in Lexington, said he hopes the senators will take it upon themselves to understand the totality of the situation in Israel and Palestine.

“You have to make the effort, if you’re going, to meet with Palestinians and hear the other perspectives,” he said. “You don’t have to be convinced or be manipulated by any opinions, but you have to hear from the other side, too.”