It is good, and rather surprising in today's climate, to see the San Francisco Examiner come out for Pamela Geller's free speech rights and say that her pro-Israel ads should be allowed to run. However, the Examiner predictably enough retails Islamic supremacist talking points in branding the ad "offensive," "bigoted," "hateful" and even "repulsive."
The Examiner doesn't bother to explain why it thinks the ad is all those terrible things, but objections to the ad have revolved around two related claims: that it calls everyone who sides with the "Palestinians" against Israel, or every Muslim or every Arab, a "savage," and that the people who are opposed to Israel are not savages. The ad doesn't actually refer to all supporters of the Palestinian jihad, or all Muslims or all Arabs, but that claim has nevertheless been widely repeated in the mainstream media. It actually refers to the Palestinian jihadis who glory in the murders of innocent civilians.
Take, for example, Ahlam Tamimi, who helped murder 16 Israelis in a pizzeria. She recently appeared on al-Aqsa TV and recounted the joy of the "Palestinians" as radio reports on the jihad attack increased the number of dead: "Two minutes later, they said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn't. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding."
Is it savage to take pleasure in the mass murder of innocent civilians? Yes, it is. And it is not actually "hateful," or "bigoted," or "offensive" or "repulsive" to say so. Glorying in the murders of innocent human beings is hateful, offensive, and repulsive, and stems in this case from Islamic bigotry and Jew-hatred. But the Examiner wouldn't dream of upsetting liberal pieties by noting that.
The San Francisco Examiner is covering itself with shame in its moral equivocation on this point, and its effectively running interference for these murderers and their apologists. At very least, as supposedly evenhanded journalists, the Examiner's editorialists could have noted that some consider the ads hateful, and presented our side of the story. But that would have interfered with their propaganda line.
Covering themselves with shame also are those on the Right who are too cowardly, pusillanimous, cowed by the Left, and/or self-serving to speak up in defense of Pamela Geller, the freedom of speech, and these ads.
"Hateful bus ads are free speech," an unsigned San Francisco Examiner editorial, August 22:
An offensive and bigoted advertising campaign about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now running on Muni buses. Yet despite the repulsive nature of these advertisements, they must be allowed to run to protect the advertiser’s free-speech rights.
A few weeks ago, signs appeared on 10 Muni buses that said, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” The American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization so extreme it has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, purchased the ads. The group is led by Pamela Geller, a blogger and writer who defended the campaign by noting the message is protected by the First Amendment.
And as much as we disagree with the content of her ads, we agree with Geller that the message is protected speech and that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, should not block this message or others like it in the future.
Banning the ads would be limiting speech based on the type of message that is conveyed, which clearly violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In fact, in a fight over the same advertisements in New York City, Geller won a court battle after the messages were barred from the transit system there.
There are limits to free speech, but while these ads toe the line, they do not cross it. If the messages incited violent action against a group, that line would have been crossed. The transit agency also has guidelines for what type of advertisements can be prohibited, but these do not meet any of those criteria either. Geller seems to have crafted her hateful ads to garner attention without being censored.
First Amendment protections apply to every type of message, not just the ones we agree with. Letting Muni or any other governmental body censor speech based on the message would send the SFMTA down a perilous road that is best not taken — and one that the courts, rightly, would not let the agency take.
Muni has stated its opposition to the message of the advertisements without removing them. To start with, the transit agency donated the $3,800 of income from the ads to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission for educational activities. In addition, the agency started running ads next to Geller’s that say, “SFMTA policy prohibits discrimination based on national origin, religion, and other characteristics and condemns statements that describe any group as ‘savages.’”
The Bay Area was home to the free-speech movement, and it is important to remember how valuable those rights are. Everyone is right to condemn these hateful ads, but local calls for their removal are wrong. Better to use the ads as a starting point to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the extremist views that people hold about the dispute. After all, merely banning a viewpoint from a Muni bus will not make it disappear entirely....