Israeli 'War Crimes' Ads Presented Credible Threat, Federal Judge Rules

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King County's argument for pulling anti-Israeli bus ads was apparently a slam dunk in the eyes of a federal judge. On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones rejected calls for oral argument by both the county and the group suing it, saying the evidence was clear without further discussion. The ads presented a real threat to public safety and bus service, Jones ruled. Given the facts laid out in the case, he's right.

The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, which attempted to place the ads and then sued after they were ultimately rejected last winter, has long contended that the issue is about free speech. The county was suppressing the ads--which read: "Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work" --because it didn't like their anti-Israeli stance.

But Jones points out that the county originally accepted the ads (see pdf of ruling). It was only after a barrage of controversy that King County Executive Dow Constantine backtracked. So why couldn't Dow have just "taken his lumps from the pro-Israeli crowd," as DW's own Curtis Cartier once suggested?

If Dow was merely facing heated debate, indeed he should have. But as Jones reiterated, the county was up against a lot more. Among the 6,000 e-mails and hundreds of phone calls that poured in were eight menacing threats. Among them:

If you want to see how tough Jews can be, then go ahead and run those special ads and we'll see who has the last word on this. If you run these ads we will work together with our Jewish friends and others to shut Metro down.

and

We Jews are not the same as the Jews of Europe during the Second World War!! We get pissed off, we take action!!!

The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign argued that such threats could have been a lot of hot air. But Jones said that the county didn't need "crystal-ball certainty" that violence would occur, just a reasonable fear that it might.

And those messages weren't the only signs of potential trouble. On Dec. 20, a security guard found photographs shoved under the door of the Metro Customer Service Center. The pictures portrayed people and buses injured by explosives, with the message "No to the bus ads for Muslim terrorists" written across the top.

Some 20 bus drivers told the county that they feared for their safety, and some refused to drive buses bearing the ads in question--meaning almost certain disruption to bus service. And on top of all that, both King County Sherriff Sue Rahr and U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan warned the county of possible public-safety risks, with Durkan noting that terrorists like to attack public transportation systems.

However Dow feels about Israel, he had credible, non-political reasons for rejecting the ads. That doesn't mean the pro-Israeli crowd should celebrate the county's decision or Jones' ruling. The threats that came in to the county should be painfully embarrassing to that crowd. They certainly do neither Israelis nor Jews any favors.

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