By ANDY LEVY-AJZENKOPF
Staff Reporter The Canadian Jewish News April 26, 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C. – area commuters will be inundated with a controversial
poster-ad campaign when they take the city’s subway system next month.
Starting May 13 for four weeks, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Authority (WMATA) has ordered 20 of its subway stations to place posters
advertising a June 10 rally to end “Israel’s illegal military occupation of
the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”
Initiated by a charity called the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli
Occupation, the 46-by-60-inch posters depict an imposing tank pointing its
main firing turret at a child with a schoolbag walking along a dirt road.
“Imagine if this were your child’s path to school. Palestinians don’t have
to imagine,” the poster states, before continuing to call for an end to U.S.
aid for “Israel’s brutal military occupation. paid for by U.S. taxpayers
CBS Outdoor, the New York-based firm that places in-station advertising for
WMATA, at first refused to consider the poster, but eventually relented to
pressure from WMATA and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
According to an April 4 report in the Washington Jewish Week online, the
U.S. Campaign contacted the ACLU, which then advised WMATA to order CBS
Outdoor to place the posters, citing freedom of speech rights.
Joanne Ferreira, a WMATA spokesperson, said, “We didn’t have any problem
with the ad. It was a First Amendment issue.”
In the same report, Oren Segal, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation
League said, “If past events by this organization are any indication, it
will make no attempt to present a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, and this ad is a pure reflection of that.”
Jodi Senese, CBS Outdoor’s executive vice-president in charge of marketing,
explained to The CJN last week why she first turned away the poster.
“I initially rejected it on grounds that I thought it was too inflammatory
to children,” she said over the phone from her
Senese recalled that she told U.S. Campaign staff that if they wanted to
raise awareness for their campaign, she was fine with it based on First
Amendment rights, “but not like this,” she said.
The U.S. Campaign claims 250 member organizations in the United States. Its
website features a prominent logo with the slogan, “Apartheid: Wrong for
South Africans. Wrong for Palestinians.”
Senese, who is Jewish, indicated that though she was uneasy with the ad, her
personal feelings were not a part of her initial decision to dismiss the ad.
“I’m very proud [of being a Jew],” Senese said. “I thought the image was
inflammatory, but I also believe in our First Amendment rights. As Jews [in
America], we thrive on that right as well.”
Senese indicated at the time of the interview, that to her knowledge no
other group had yet come forward with a counter-campaign for CBS Outdoor to
Arthur Spitzer, who is Jewish and the legal director for the ACLU in the
National Capital Area, told the Washington Jewish Week it wasn’t “a case
about Judaism or Israel. but about establishing someone’s right to freedom
of speech, which I agree with regardless of whether I agree with their
particular political position.”
Jewish organizations in the D.C. area downplayed the seriousness of the
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of Washington-based pro-Israel
think-tank, the Israel Project, said her organization didn’t consider the ad
campaign worth wasting resources to counter in the media and expected the
ads to have a “minimum impact.”
She said when the Israel Project and other prominent Jewish organizations in
the area first learned about the ad, they worried about its “ominous”
They discussed the matter at length and then conducted several focus group
studies on the ad with dozens of “highly educated people” before concluding
the ad wasn’t worth combating actively.
In fact, Laszlo Mizrahi claimed that of the dozens who analyzed the ad in
the focus groups, upon first glance most thought the tank was an American
one surrounded by Iraqi children. And even when they read the poster’s
words, participants had little sympathy for the cause, she said.
“It’s a poorly run… poorly executed campaign and the American people are
onto [the U.S. Campaign's] game,” Laszlo Mizrahi said. “There are real,
legitimate threats to the U.S.-Israel relationship – this is just not one of
“If these guys want to build support for their cause, they need to have
something to sell that doesn’t encourage children to blow themselves up.”