A far-right blogger who paid to plaster inflammatory ads tarring Muslims as violent radicals plans to take the MTA to court after the agency rejected one of her ads, her lawyer said Monday.
The blogger, Pamela Geller, plans to file a First Amendment lawsuit in Manhattan federal court Wednesday against the MTA for blocking an ad that depicted a man with a scarf covering his face next to a quote, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” and “That’s His Jihad.”
The ad is a parody of a #MyJihad campaign to reclaim the proper meaning of the word that a Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter had sponsored. The MTA had said Geller’s version could incite violence against Jews, given the turmoil in the Middle East.
The last time the MTA was dragged into court for spiking Geller’s ads, a federal judge in 2012 said the agency’s decision violated the First Amendment, leaving them with little power to stop ads that demean people based on their ethnicity, nationality or religion.
“I will tell you, it is as close to 100% as any lawyer can be walking into court,” Geller’s lawyer, David Yerushalmi, an activist who stokes fear of Sharia law and Islamic terrorism, , boasted to amNewYork. “Apparently, the MTA likes spending your money paying me [legal fees] to sue them because that’s what’s going to happen here.”
Geller paid $100,000 to put six ads on 100 buses and two subway stations, including Columbus Circle. One ad showing journalist James Foley before he was beheaded at the hands of the Islamic State was voluntarily pulled and altered when his family’s lawyer sent a letter that said the ad conveys a “message that ordinary practitioners of Islam are a dangerous threat” that is “entirely inconsistent with Mr. Foley’s reporting and his beliefs.”
“Ms. Geller understands and feels intimately the pain your clients are suffering. Neither she nor [Geller’s group, American Freedom Defense Initiative] wish to add to that pain, even if only tangentially,” responded Yerushalmi in a letter posted to Geller’s website.
The MTA, meanwhile, dug its heels in on AFDI’s “Killing Jews” ad after Yerushalmi implored the agency to approve it. The agency said its security and safety director reviewed four ads and OK’d three. Further, the MTA reasoned that the ad lacked “crucial context” as a parody because the #MyJihad campaign never made it to New York City.
“AFDI cannot credibly claim that MTA’s determination about its ‘Killing Jews’ ad is viewpoint discrimination or that MTA has precluded AFDI from expressing its viewpoint,” MTA real estate director Jeffrey Rosen wrote to Yerushalmi last week in a letter provided to amNewYork.
Linda Sarsour, exectuive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said the size of Geller’s ad buy eclipses her past efforts. She worries the latest campaign has the potential to encourage violence against Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslims and Jews are already on the rise in New York City since fighting had broken out in the Middle East, officials have warned.
“This is the last thing that American Muslims need in the political context we’re living in right now,” Sarsour said.
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s spokesman in Washington, D.C., dismissed Geller’s ad campaign as a familiar “anti-Muslim hate road show” to generate publicity in cities around the country.
“Every transit authority that I’ve ever spoken to on this, they hate having to put up her ads,” Hooper said. “They despise it, but they feel in many cases they don’t have any choice.”