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July 19, 2012 4:13 pm

Henry Clifford’s MTA Billboards are Anti-Semitic and Libelous

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Middle East map. Photo: Hal Switkay.

The billboards at 50 Metro-North Railroad stations placed by Henry Clifford, that paint Israel, the Jewish State, as an imperialist land grabber are anti-Semitic and libelous. The ad shows four successive maps, which depict shrinking ‘Palestinian land’ (green) which is replaced by ‘Jewish land,’ (white) over the title, “Palestinian Loss of Land 1946 – 2010.”

Regarding the content of the poster, the merits based argument, has been well made by good old Marc Tracy at Tablet Magazine. Some of the images portrayed and their respective labels are utter bunk, and the exclusion of all historical context is deliberately misleading. But Tracy fails to carry his argument forward to its logical conclusion by dismissing my charge of anti-Semitism.

This particular instance of ‘anti-Semitism aversion’ is of course symptomatic of the impact of the wider movement among anti-Israel activists, aimed at legitimizing efforts to hold the Jewish state responsible for all manner of fantastical crimes by effectively disjoining any bigoted connotation from all forms of rabid Israel bashing.

As it is my use of the term anti-Semitism that appears to have engendered a tad of confusion among some writers, whose position on the subject can only best be described as morally meek, I believe it important to explain.

Surely there can be no dispute that the ads themselves provide imagery that is accusatory in nature and defamatory in message and are therefore offensive to the accused. Specifically, the narrative conveyed to the viewer is that the area in the first map labeled as ‘Palestinian land’ has been taken away by Jews/Israelis to the extent shown in the last map. In case the viewer is still unsure who the good/bad guys are here, a message on the right hand side of the ad reads “4.7 Million Palestinians are Classified by the U.N. as Refugees,” assuring us that the Palestinians are indeed victims of Israeli/Jewish expansionism.

The distinction that Tracy and his ilk draw is between, as he puts it, ‘criticizing Israel’, and ‘hating Jews.’ But this point is simply moot in this case, here is why:

  1. The common sense test: most people associate Israel, the Jewish state, with Jews. Although I am British, as a conspicuous Jew, I am often asked by New York taxi drivers if I am from Israel. Statistics have shown that during escalations in Israeli initiatives against terrorism, in certain European countries, attacks on Jews (not Israelis) rise. After the recent tragedy in Toulouse the perpetrator claimed that he was upset about what he referred to as Israel’s “murder” of Palestinian children, so he killed Jewish children, (not Israelis.) So if Israel is wrongfully accused of a crime, it increases negative perceptions of Jews around the world and their risk of being attacked. In fact I would advise those that have any doubt , to don a kippa and other overt Jewish symbols, stand right next to the billboard ads and see if they are subject to any negative interactions or not. There is a visual association that most people will make between what the poster accuses and the Jew.
  1. The definition test: Among the most up to date anti-Semitism definitions, formulated by a body that is by no means known for its love of the Jewish state, is the 2005 ‘European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,’ which should certainly serve as some form of minimum threshold guideline. The document includes the following clause; “manifestations (of anti-Semitism) could also target the state of Israel conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”  It may be one thing to protect criticism of certain Israeli policies, but the story that the advert’s maps tell is that the area labeled as Palestinian in the first map, which includes that vast majority of modern day Israel, has been stolen from the Palestinians. This is not a criticism of specific policies but of the Zionist endeavor, an existential attack on the Jewish state that falls into at least two categories that are specifically mentioned in the EUMC paper, 1. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and 2. Applying double standards by requiring of it behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  1. The specific test:  In case any doubt remained, the designers of the ad were very careful to ensure with their wording that a specific distinction between Jews and Israelis could not be drawn. By labeling the white area in the first two maps as ‘Jewish land,’ at the very least, the accused land grab in maps 1 and 2 is being pinned on “Jews”.

So let’s just call a bigot a bigot and focus on stamping out the spread of such hateful messaging once and for all.

The author is the editor of The Algemeiner and director of the GJCF and can be e-mailed atdefune@gjcf.com.

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