Quiet debut for anti-Muslim bus ads; counter-message billboard overlooks I-76

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia sponsored a digital billboard with a message of inclusion to counter the “Jew Hatred” SEPTA bus ads.

Anti-Muslim advertising began appearing on SEPTA buses Wednesday in accordance with a federal court ruling that the transit agency could not selectively deny the ads because of their message.

SEPTA has changed its policy and now refuses any political or public-issue advertising, so as not to single out any message, but it must run the ads on 84 buses until the end of the month to comply with the court ruling.

As of Wednesday evening, the agency had not received any reports of vandalism or complaints about the ads, said spokeswoman Jerri Williams.

Also Wednesday, a counter-message of acceptance was launched on a billboard overlooking the Schuylkill Expressway near Dickinson Street in South Philadelphia.

The bus ads, each measuring 30 by 80 inches, proclaim "Islamic Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran" and feature a photograph of a 1941 meeting between Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist who made radio broadcasts supporting the Nazis.

The ads were produced by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a nonprofit organization that oversees a program called "Stop Islamization of America."

The group, cofounded by conservative activist Pamela Geller, has run similar types of anti-Islamic ads on public transportation in other major cities.

Williams said that the ads had been installed on about two-thirds of the 84 buses and that the rest should be in place by early Thursday. SEPTA operates a total of 1,400 buses.

The counter billboard, sponsored by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, shows the faces of five people of different racial and cultural backgrounds and advertises daretounderstand.org.

The faces were photographed by Jacques-Jean Tiziou, an artist known for his "How Philly Moves" mural commissioned by the Mural Arts Program.

The "Dare to Understand" campaign had been conceived several years ago, but organizers deemed the inflammatory bus ads a "teachable moment" that will resonate beyond their monthlong run.

"We wanted to do something that had staying power," said Abby Stamelman Hocky, executive director of the Interfaith Center.

The website is being used to raise money for the campaign, and more than $28,000 toward a $50,000 goal had been raised as of late Wednesday.

The digital billboard is booked until April 12, but the Interfaith Center is exploring other ways to deliver its message, including benches and taxicabs.

 


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