SAN FRANCISCO -- In response to widespread criticism, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has agreed to donate all the proceeds from a controversial ad campaign that recently began appearing on its fleet of buses to a local human rights organization.
"[San Francisco] has a long history of tolerance for all, and while we honor a person’s right to self-expression, there are times when we must say 'enough,'" said SFMTA Board of Directors chairman Tom Nolan. "The recent ad has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice. While this ad is protected under the First Amendment, our ad policy and our contractual obligations, we condemn the use of any language that belittles, demeans or disparages others. Going forward, we will review our policies with regards to ads on the Muni system."
The ads, purchased by the American Freedom Defense League, read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad."
Money from the ads will be given to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the arm of the city's government that advocates for human and civil rights, mediates discrimination complaints and works to resolve community problems on discrimination issues.
ADFI's Pam Geller told ABC San Francisco that she placed the ads in response to another series that appeared in various Bay Area public transit vehicles last year, urging the U.S. to curtail military aid to Israel.
"The reason I wanted to run these ads was to counter the anti-Israel ads that were running in various cities across the country in New York, in D.C., on San Francisco BART," she said. "It was a fallacious and dangerous message and it had to be countered with the truth."
The ad has raised the hackles of local Jewish groups, many of whom found its message counterproductive.
"The Bay Area’s organized Jewish community takes great offense to the ad’s inflammatory and anti-Muslim language. We are steadfast in our support of Israel and our concern about the growing threat of Islamic radicalism, and steadfast in our opposition to anti-Muslim stereotypes," the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco said in a statement. "We have long been concerned that the repeated appearance of offensive anti-Israel ads would turn our local public transit system into a battleground for the Israeli-Arab conflict; we are no less concerned by offensive anti-Muslim ads."
While the SFMTA has a policy against running ads that are "clearly defamatory," the agency's hands were largely tied in this case.
On the very same day that SFMTA accepted the piece, a federal judge ruled the New York City's public transit agency was in the wrong when it rejected the very same ad. In his decision, Jude Paul A. Engelmayer ruled that the posters are "afforded the highest level of protection under the First Amendment."
If SFMTA rejected the ad outright and ADFI filed suit, something the group has proven it's willing to do, San Francisco's cash-strapped transit authority would have to pay for a costly legal battle in which it would likely end up on the losing side.
"We understand how many people may find this ad offensive," SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose told The Huffington Post. "But we're limited in what we can do."