A pro-Israel advocacy group known for publicly criticizing Islam can display its political advertisement containing the phrase “Hamas Killing Jews” on New York City’s buses, a judge said.
Judge John Koeltl said in a decision made public Tuesday that the advertisement is protected speech. He said he was sensitive to the MTA’s claim that the ad could incite violence but noted that substantially the same advertisement ran in San Francisco and Chicago in 2013 without incident.
“Under the First Amendment, the fear of such spontaneous attacks, without more, cannot override individuals’ rights to freedom of expression,” Koeltl said. He stayed its effect for a month so it can be appealed.
It came in a lawsuit filed last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group headed by Pamela Geller that buys the advertisements to express its message on current events and public issues.
The lawsuit was filed after the MTA notified the group in August that it would display three of four proposed ads but not one with the quote “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah” because it could incite violence. In the ad, a face covered with a kaffieh is next to the quote, which is attributed to “Hamas MTV.” It is followed by: “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”
In a September statement, the MTA said it recognized that the rejected ad was a parody of “MyJihad” ads sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which said it was promoting a variant version of jihad as a personal struggle rather than a violent conflict or terrorism.
Koeltl said he believes the agency underestimates “the power of counter-advertisements to explain that the MTA does not endorse the ad and that the ad is not to be taken seriously.”
Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, noted in a statement that the mayor has said “these anti-Islamic ads are outrageous, inflammatory and wrong, and have no place in New York City, or anywhere.”
“While those behind these ads only display their irresponsible intolerance, the rest of us who may be forced to view them can take comfort in the knowledge that we share a better, loftier and nobler view of humanity.”
David Yerushalmi, Geller’s lawyer, said the decision “sends a strong message both to government bureaucrats who would restrict our freedom of speech based upon what they perceive to be a global jihadist threat, and it also sends a telling message to our enemies abroad and at home: Their threats of violence will not prevent the courts from upholding the First Amendment.”