SEATTLE – "Israeli War Crimes," the enormous advertisement reads. "Your tax dollars at work."
To the right of the image is a group of children -- one little boy stares out at the viewer, the others gawk at a demolished building, all rebar and crumbled concrete.
It's an ad you'll be seeing soon on a handful of Metro buses in downtown Seattle.
A group calling itself the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign has paid King County $1,794 so that 12 buses will carry that message around town, starting two days after Christmas. That's December 27: the two-year anniversary of Israeli attacks on Gaza, aimed at stopping rocket attacks and weapons smuggling.
Ed Mast, a Seattle man who is a spokesperson for the group, says it’s not meant to be an anti-Israel message, but a message designed to generate discussion and awareness.
"I wouldn't say it's an anti-Israel message any more than any complaint about a country is anti-that country. We would like Israel to stop violating human rights. We would like Israel to give equal rights to its Palestinian citizens and its Palestinian subjects who live under occupation," said Mast.
At the Pacific Northwest office of the Anti-Defamation League, the ad campaign is seen quite a bit differently.
"We're dismayed," says Community Director Hilary Bernstein, who calls the bus-born advertisement grotesquely one-sided. "Citizens young and old will be seeing this sort of propaganda, this very one-sided distortion. It's unfortunate."
So, is the side of a public bus the right place for this kind of attack? Are the issues that regularly inflame one of the most flammable hot-spots in the world appropriate fare for people strolling the sidewalks of Seattle?
As far as King County is concerned, it's not really up to them what appears on the side of their buses, as long as it fits specific guidelines regarding:
- Tobacco, and
- As long as the images and material used don't interfere with public safety or insult specific groups to the point that a riot could be incited, vandalism could occur or public safety could be threatened.
King County Metro Transit spokesperson Linda Thielke acknowledges some people will be offended by the campaign, but that is not enough to prevent the rolling billboards from hitting the streets.
"As a government, we are mindful of the provisions in state and federal constitutions to protect freedom of speech. So, we can't object these campaigns simply because they offend some people," said Thielke.
The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign has targeted their advertising so that the buses carrying their message will run mostly on Seattle routes.