In recent weeks, a number of misleading anti-Israel advertisements have popped up on public buses across Connecticut. The eye-catching ads feature a context-less quote from an Israeli prime minister, maps of Israel which contain distorted information about the Jewish presence in pre-1948 Israel and regarding Israeli settlements, and a picture of a Syrian refugee girl meant to represent mistreated Palestinians. These ads have caused much confusion, disbelief and anger in our community.
Though it might seem like a quick fix to call for removal of the ads on the basis of their misleading nature, to do so would run counter to what the Anti-Defamation League stands for as an organization, and what we stand for as a country. We have never been in the business of suppressing speech, even when we disagree with it. When faced with messages we find to be false or misleading, we believe the answer is more speech, not less. We are thankful to live in a robustly democratic country where speech is not suppressed by our government and the citizens of Connecticut can research and disprove spurious claims instead of banning them.
To be clear, we take great issue with the ads, and find their grossly inaccurate claims and lack of context to be highly disturbing. None of the ads mention the Arab rejection of 1947 UN Partition Plan, which would have led to the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab/Palestinian. One ad contains a quote about Israel being spread throughout Palestine, language intended to suggest that Israel’s very existence is illegitimate. And it makes no mention of the repeated Palestinian rejection of peace offers made by Israel during the past two decades, which would have included the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and in upwards of 95 percent of the West Bank.
It’s also important to note that the group behind the ads, the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine (COPIP), and its chairman Henry Clifford, have a long record of strident advocacy against Israel. In the past, COPIP has attempted to justify Palestinian terrorism as a result of Israeli policies and U.S. aid towards Israel. A post on COPIP’s blog from May 2011 includes a flier that reads “Mothers do not raise their children to be terrorists. Only when all hope is lost for a decent, secure life is a terrorist created.” It later asks, “Could it be that billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel is actually helping to create terrorists?” Clifford has also made rash, incendiary accusations, alleging that Israeli leaders have “always planned to take over all or most Palestine and to expel as many Arabs as would be necessary.”
Our democratic and free speech principles dictate that so long as such public expressions do not cross the line into inciting violence, COPIP and other anti-Israel voices have a right to promote these ads, no matter how false or misleading they are. It is in fact these principles of democracy and freedom that the State of Israel was founded upon and continues to practice today. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, Israel protects free speech and freedom of expression. This is part of what makes Israel such a stalwart and invaluable ally to the United States, especially in these uncertain times. And our opposition to these ads and their message means we are obligated to speak out loudly about the reality of the State of Israel, the importance of the Jewish state, its vibrant democracy, its desire for peace and its very, very, real security challenges.
But bottom line: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated and multifaceted, and cannot be explained or conveyed on the back of a Connecticut city bus.