As professional and effective Muni buses are in shuttling hundreds of thousands of riders around San Francisco, the same cannot be said about their own advertising department. A newly displayed advertisement can be seen strewn across the side of the buses, with a large headline claiming “The Palestinian Authority [P.A.] Teaches Children to Hate.” Large images show a child surrounded by what could be interpreted as suicide bombers, another draped in military garb brandishing an assault rifle and the last being a child holding a combat knife the size of his own arm. The advertisement also promotes the “End of All U.S. Aid to the P.A.” “Paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative” can be seen in smaller, faded-grey text lining the bottom.
A recent change.org petition, which has now accrued over 2,000 signatures, points to the hypocrisy of Muni running the advertisement, and calls for the city to remove them.
The Foghorn editorial board shares the sentiments of the change.org petition, and find Muni’s choice to display the advertisement a dangerous acceptance of anti-Muslim rhetoric. There is also a need for policy change so that such inflammatory advertisements are not displayed.
Perhaps most astonishing is the real name of the organization behind the funding of the advertisement. The American Freedom Defense Initiative, with its incredulously patriotic title, is better known as Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), an anti-Muslim organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has been involved in many high-profile news stories in prior years, including their sponsorship last year of the “Draw the Prophet” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, which subsequently provoked an attack by the Islamic State in retaliation for depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
It is appalling that Muni would choose to partner with such a group. Those who are in charge of Muni’s advertising should take a long look at who decided to run the advertisement and investigate the decision and structural process behind the partnership.
One can only imagine what other groups could attempt to partner with Muni, and what type of advertisements we could see in the future if the SIOA was so easily able to do so. The Foghorn condemns Muni’s decision to display the advertisement and sees the partnership as a lack of understanding in advertising standards, as well as the promotion of discrimination.
It is clear that there is room for reform at Muni’s advertising department. The officials at Muni should have conducted finer research in regards to partnering with a group that has incited violence in the past. According to official Muni regulations regarding advertising policy, “SFMTA advertising contractors shall not post any advertisement that is clearly defamatory or advocates imminent lawlessness or violent action.” Policy should be crafted to bar groups related to hate and violence to be involved in advertising processes, especially with the added carelessness of involving children. Advertisements are meant to sell products, and at times, be political. There is a large difference, however, between showing a stance on an issue, and unnecessarily provoking San Franciscans by including an intractable and complex conflict in an advertisement.
Our city’s government has set a dangerous precedent in displaying SIOA’s advertisement; it is up to its citizens to take action against this very real and visceral example of hate within our society.