Dow Constantine's Ban of Anti-Israeli/Palestinian Bus Ads Costs County Its Best Argument for Changing Policy

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King County Executive Dow Constantine would have had a credible argument that the Metro Transit system's policy of allowing controversial "for cause" advertising on buses was costing too much in staff time and resources and should be changed. Unfortunately, he may have lost the bulk of that credibility by not allowing two much-talked-about ads criticizing Israel and Palestine from running before he had a new policy in place.

Constantine issued this statement last Thursday:

"The escalation of this issue from one of 12 local bus placards to a widespread and often vitriolic international debate introduces new and significant security concerns that compel reassessment. We cannot and would not favor one point of view over another, so the entire category of non-commercial advertising will be eliminated until a permanent policy can be completed that I can propose to the King County Council for adoption."

For those who missed what's become international news, the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign paid for an ad reading "Israel War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars At Work" and showed a pile of rubble in Gaza to run on 12 King County Metro buses for four weeks, starting this week.

As soon as the group bought the ad, members supposedly called TV news outlets to try and ramp up the controversy and get the ad more exposure.

Eventually, a pro-Israeli group bought a competing ad that said "Palestinian War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars At Work" and showed a burning Israeli bus.

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Since Constantine announced that he would stop the ads from running, he's been criticized by the group which purchased the first ad and by free speech advocates.

Most of this likely could have been avoided if the County Exec had simply allowed the ads to run, taken his lumps from the pro-Israeli crowd, then argued all the stronger for the changing of the county's overall policy on accepting politically charged advertising (and giving up the $479,000 per year it reportedly brings in).

Constantine's statement that Metro "cannot and would not favor one point of view over another, so the entire category of non-commercial advertising will be eliminated" is a noble notion. But unless he can prove he's neutral by adhering to the county's current plan of allowing such ads, then jumping through the needed hoops to get the policy changed, it just looks like an anti-Israeli message is the one thing he won't stand for.

 
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