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Anti-Israel ads fuel controversy in Seattle

israelisoldier afp Anti Israel ads fuel controversy in Seattle

SEATTLE, Washington – Seattle peace activists are planning to post anti-Israel ads on the sides of local commuter buses protesting US support for the Jewish state, prompting outcry from Jewish groups.

The banners show Palestinian children standing around a demolished building, with the caption “Israeli war crimes: your tax dollars at work.”

A group called the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign paid King County 1,794 dollars to plaster the ads on the sides of 12 buses starting Monday to coincide with the three-year anniversary of the start of Israel’s war with Gaza.

The ads are due to run for four weeks.

Operation Cast Lead, launched by Israel in response to hundreds of rockets fired into the Jewish state, killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis, 10 of them soldiers, also died.

In a website created to accompany the ads, stop30billion-seattle.org, Seattle activist Ed Mast explained he was protesting a 2007 promise by the United States to give 30 billion dollars in military aid to Israel over the next decade.

“The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign is launching the advertising campaign aimed at securing equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis, as well as an end to United States military aid to Israel, which continues at a time of economic crisis and severe budget cuts that have resulted in massive unemployment,” the website said.

A UN report on the battle accused both sides of committing war crimes. Israel has condemned the report, authored by a Jewish South African judge, saying it is anti-Semitic.

In Seattle, the proposed bus ads have led to more than 2,000 calls and e-mails to the King County Department of Transportation — most of them opposing the move — according to spokesperson Linda Thielke.

Earlier this week, King County Councilmember Peter Von Reichbauer sent a letter to county head executive Dow Constantine asking that the ads be pulled.

Von Reichbauer referenced a July 28, 2006 shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation building that left one woman dead.

“Now I ask the question why a public transportation system would advertise polarizing political statements,” he added.

Bus advertisement guidelines forbid ads for tobacco and alcohol products, anything sexually explicit or statements that are so offensive they are likely to “incite or produce imminent lawless action in the form of retaliation, vandalism or other breach of public safety, peace and order.”

In a written statement, Constantine said he has called for a review of King County Metro Transit’s policy on non-commercial bus advertisements.

But he acknowledged there was little the authorities could do to stop the ads from going forward.

“Our attorneys have repeatedly advised that Metro is legally constrained in its ability to accept or reject an advertisement based on the identity of the group purchasing the advertising, or the message,” Constantine wrote.

But that didn’t stop a group calling itself the American Freedom Defense Initiative from proposing two ads to counter the anti-Israel campaign.

“One Billion Dollars to Hamas: Your Taxpayer dollars at Work” reads one ad by the group’s Stop Islamization of America program. It shows scenes of anti-Israel and anti-US rallies organized by the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza.

Another reads “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man: support Israel, defeat Islamic jihad.”

The ads feature photo montages of what appear to be Hamas militants, including children with blood-stained hands and Hitler holding the arms and shoulders of a man whose face and head are concealed by a Palestinian scarf.

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