An Open Letter Regarding SF Muni Bus Ads

Today, the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) sent the following letter to the Municipal Transportation Agency. The NLGSF supports ads placed on buses critical of Israeli policies and believes it is wrong to compare these ads with the hate speech of earlier ads.

May 24, 2013

Ed Reiskin
Executive Director
Municipal Transportation Agency
1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

Tom Nolan
Chairman, Board of Directors
Municipal Transportation Agency
1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear Mr. Reiskin and Chairman Nolan:

On behalf of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, we are writing you to voice our support for the advertisements commissioned by American Muslims for Palestine and express our disagreement with the substance of a letter sent by some San Francisco supervisors, led by Scott Wiener.

The most deplorable aspect of the letter from Supervisor Wiener is its attempt to equate hateful ads targeting all Muslims and labeling them “savages” with ads criticizing a state of affairs in Israel, quoting Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, and calling for a political solution – ending U.S. aid to Israel. The anti-Muslim ads were undeniably hate speech. The ads critical of Israeli policies are pure political speech targeting a nation-state not a class of persons.

While the position that Israel is an apartheid state may be controversial to some, it is an integral part of the global discussion concerning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Former President Jimmy Carter has used the word “apartheid” to describe the situation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Jewish-only settlements dot the landscape connected by Jewish-only roads and Palestinians are controlled by walls and checkpoints.

In October 2010 Richard A. Falk reported to the General Assembly Third Committee "It is the opinion of the current Special Rapporteur that the nature of the occupation as of 2010 substantiates earlier allegations of colonialism and apartheid in evidence and law to a greater extent than was the case even three years ago. The entrenching of colonialist and apartheid features of the Israeli occupation has been a cumulative process. The longer it continues, the more difficult it is to overcome and the more serious is the abridgement of fundamental Palestinian rights."

Furthermore, the idea that Israel is, or is becoming an, apartheid state is openly discussed in Israel as well as among Jewish scholars and commentators. Supervisor Weiner’s letter claims to speak for “the Jewish community,” yet ignores the fact that the Israel apartheid ads are supported by Jewish Voice for Peace and that the position of the Jewish diaspora on Israel and its policies is immensely diverse. As Israeli writer, and former member of the Knesset, Uri Avnery said in 2012: “As it is today, it is an Apartheid state, a full apartheid in the occupied territories and a growing apartheid in Israel – and if this goes on, it will be full apartheid throughout the country, incontestably.”

Equating these two sets of advertisements, one from a recognized hate group defaming Muslims another supported by a range of community organizations criticizing the policies of a nation state, is, at best, irresponsible. We applaud your decision not to accept the funds from hate speech on Muni buses and we urge you to treat the ads critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians as distinctly different and a critical part of the political discourse.

Sincerely,

Carlos Villarreal
Executive Director

Mike Flynn
President