Check Your Ad Before You Publish

Kristina Wyman's picture
Kathleen Nolan

There has been a conflict going on between Israel and Palestine since the establishment of Israel in modern times. Recently this conflict has come to the billboards of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Association. The legal conflict about the billboards may be headed to the Supreme Court.
The case is from a dispute that occurred in 2013. That year, the MBTA rejected a pro-Israeli ad that read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel Defeat Jihad.”

The MBTA rejected the advertisement under their guidelines that “prohibit ads that demean or disparage individuals or groups.” Around the same time they allowed for a pro-Palestine advertisement that stated, “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the U.N. as refugees.”

The argument is that the MBTA is limiting the free speech of the pro-Israel group and showing favoritism towards the pro-Palestine group.

Recently, the first amendment issues that have come about due to transit agencies’ polices have divided federal courts. In Boston, the courts have been siding with the MBTA, leading to the group American Freedom Defense Initiative to continue to appeal to the Supreme Court. The court has not ruled on the first amendment in public transit in over 40 years, so there is a real possibility that the justices could choose to hear the case.

I think that in this specific case, the MBTA has a point in rejecting the advertisement. The difference between the two advertisements is one is calling Palestinians savages and the other is stating a number. Even if the number is wrong, it isn’t calling a whole group of people savages.

Yes, you have the right to free speech, and you can absolutely walk into south station and yell this at the top of your lungs. You can post this on your personal social media or your organization’s social media. But if you are paying to post it, then the company has a right to reject the advertisement.

At the end of the day, the MBTA is a government agency and a business. As a business, they are allowed to decide what they do and do not advertise. As a government agency, they can be sued by people for the things that they display. Legal issues incur costs that, if you have ever looked at the MBTA’s budget, you know they do not have. That is why they have changed their policy because of what has happened here.

Also the pro-Israel advertisement brings nothing constructive to the argument. Calling Palestinians savages does not say anything about what has been going on in Israel. Taking that a step further by calling them jihadists in America is almost like calling them terrorists. This does not help the conversation that has to happen between the two groups if they are ever to live in peace. It antagonizes them. Having a number of refugees that you are trying to support at least starts a conversation, even if the number isn’t correct.

From what I understand of the case, it doesn’t sound to me that the MBTA is unwilling to publish advertisements that are pro-Israel; they just have a problem with that specific advertisement calling a large group of people savages. I’m sure they would have accepted a different advertisement. If not, then there actually is a case for the Supreme Court.

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