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US group fights ban on Israel `war crime` bus ads

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 12:00

Los Angeles: A US lobby group is taking legal action to challenge a local authority`s refusal to let it put posters on Seattle buses criticizing Israel`s "war crimes" in Gaza.

The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SMAC) vowed to pursue a lawsuit, despite a judge`s refusal to force officials who run the bus system in Seattle and surrounding suburbs to allow the posters to be displayed.

In December, the group paid King County authorities nearly $1,800 to put ads on the sides of 12 Seattle-area metro buses reading: "Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work," with a picture of a bombed out Gaza wall.

The ads were meant to coincide with the anniversary of a 22-day attack on Gaza by Israel that left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead in 2008, according to SMAC organizer Ed Mast.

The planned ads triggered more than 2,000 calls and e-mails to King County`s elected officials and transportation department, mostly negative, according to a local authority spokeswoman.

While anyone can buy ad space on public buses, King County bans any statements that "incite or produce imminent lawless action in the form of retaliation, vandalism or other breach of public safety, peace and order."

Citing those rules, King County executive Dow Constantine stopped the ads before they appeared.

Condemning the decision as a violation of SMAC`s First Amendment rights, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court, but Judge Richard Jones last month denied an injunction to force the county to allow the ads.

SMAC vowed to not give up, and planned to take the case further in the court system. "By going to trial, the lawsuit will be more fully argued," Mast said.

Wendy Dore, spokeswoman for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said the group welcomed the February ruling, and had hoped it would put the issue to rest.

"The whole issue really came down not so much to a freedom of speech issue, but did these ads pose a potential threat and were they potentially disrupting service," she said Monday.

The ACLU`s Washington state branch head Kathleen Taylor added: "It is a sad day when the county that is named after Martin Luther King Jr. fails to stand up for the right to express controversial ideas."


First Published: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 12:00

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