Boston Transit Bans Political Ads After Israel Controversy


The board that oversees Boston’s transit system voted Monday to stop accepting advertising on political and social issues, days after controversy erupted over an ad that accuses the Israeli military of killing Palestinian children.

The new policy bars ads that concern “political issues or expresses or advocates an opinion, position, or viewpoint on a matter of public debate about economic, political, moral, religious or social issues.” It was approved unanimously by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s control board.

The board already banned ads for political candidates and ballot questions, and has for a variety of other things including alcohol, tobacco and firearms.

The vote followed a contentious public meeting at which a number of speakers denounced the ad, which appeared this month on a wall at the Davis Square subway station in Somerville. The speakers called it anti-Semitic and warned it could incite new violence against Jews.

The ad was defended by representatives of The Palestine Advocacy Project, which said it was intended to criticize the governments of Israel and the U.S., not the Jewish people. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts argued that removing the ad would violate the group’s free speech rights.

John Englander, the MBTA’s general counsel, said the policy change had been under discussion before the current controversy, and was consistent with policies in New York City and Chicago.

“We have had a number of lawsuits about these issues in the past and by making this change, those lawsuits will be minimized,” Englander told the board.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston said the ad violated MBTA policy even before the change Monday.

“At a time when Jews and Israelis around the world are facing mounting violence and anti-Semitism, this false and deceptive advertisement can only be construed as hostile and dangerously provocative,” the council said in a statement.

Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, told reporters that the Israeli military tries as hard as possible to avoid civilian deaths when defending itself against attacks and accused groups like Hamas of using women and children as human shields.

The MBTA “shouldn’t take money to defame Jews,” he said, adding the T had rejected a pro-Israel ad that called for supporting “civilized men” over those engaged in “savage” actions.

At the Statehouse, Gov. Charlie Baker said prior to the board’s vote that he would not be disappointed to see the MBTA “get out of the business of supporting politically charged advertising.”

The new policy takes effect Dec. 1 and would also affect some other ads on the MBTA, Englander said.