Freedom of Speech

Dear MTA, A Little Consistency

The latest player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be sidestepping the law. And it's not the ultra-Orthodox. It's the MTA.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority violated the first amendment rights of The American Freedom Defense Initiative, a pro-Israel lobbying group, by refusing to run the group’s advertisement on its buses. The MTA claimed that the ad, which said “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man” and “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” violated its advertising standards. In 1997 the Authority established a set of standards that prohibited, for one, running advertisements that are demeaning to groups or individuals–the AFDI advertisement fell under this category, according to the MTA.

But this isn’t the first time the MTA has dealt with Israel issues, nor is it the first time its advertising standards have been violated. Earlier this month, Metro-North, a subsidiary of the MTA dealt with a major public outcry because of an advertisement it ran which contained a series of maps depicting a shrinking Palestine with the text “Palestinian Loss of Land 1946-2010.”

The MTA’s advertising standards prohibit demeaning ads, but they also prohibit ads that “contain, false, misleading, or deceptive claims.” According to Israel advocates, the maps do exactly that. But in spite of the controversy, the MTA refused to pull the ads, claiming that they “do not decide to accept or reject a proposed ad based on the viewpoint that it expresses or because the ad might be controversial.”

The MTA is public—it's owned by the city. As such, it is especially important that it uphold our constitutional rights. In the case of the Metro-North, the MTA stood its ground in allowing free speech, and should be commended. But what about the free speech of the "Israel supporters" who want to publish about "civilized man"? Calling Arabs savages racist. But free speech is free speech, and as far as the MTA is concerned, this ad should be handled the same way as the Metro-North maps.

So when the ads hit the subways, as they inevitably will, we should feel free to condemn such bigotry. And in the meantime lets just remember the MTA isn’t well-known for being consistent.