This post has been updated with comments from King County Council member Pete Von Reichbauer and Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke and a statement from King County Executive Dow Constantine.

King County Council member Pete Von Reichbauer, a Republican, condemned a decision by King County Metro (or, more precisely, the agency Metro contracts with to put advertising on its buses) to allow an anti-Israel ad to run on 12 Metro buses.

The ad, which reads "Israeli war crimes: Your tax dollars at work," is funded by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign----a group that opposes Israeli military policy in Gaza and settlements in the West Bank---and is scheduled to run on the outside of Metro buses starting December 27, the anniversary of Israeli attacks on Gaza two years ago. The ads include a cite of the group's web page, stop30billion-seattle.org, a reference to the $30 billion in US aid Israel receives every year.

"This material is directed at a group, and it's insulting to that group," Von Reichbauer told PubliCola by phone this afternoon. "When you talk about Israel, you are talking about Jewish Americans. ... King County should not provide a forum for a message of hate."

In his letter, Von Reichbauer wrote, "We do not have to reflect long in time to remember that on July 28, 2006 a mad man broke into the Seattle Jewish Federation building shooting six women, one fatally, and now I ask the question why a public transportation system would advertise polarizing political statements."

"I am a strong advocate of freedom of speech and a strong believer of common sense," Reichbauer's letter continues. "And I believe very strongly that dangerous language can create dangerous environments in a society. I believe that this proposed bus advertising needs to be reviewed and reevaluated" in light of Metro policy prohibiting ads that "can incite a breach of public safety, peace and order."

Von Reichbauer says he isn't looking for a new policy, but asking Metro to change the way it implements its existing policy. "I think King County could have looked at its own language and considered whether this could create harm to" Seattle's Jewish community.

In a statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has asked Metro to "review its policies governing non-commercial bus advertising." However, he noted that Metro is more constrained than private companies (like those that run TV and magazines) in its ability to reject ads. "We all understand that individuals may find text or graphics used in advertising to be offensive or contrary to their own personal beliefs, but the appearance of any advertisement on a bus should never be construed as an endorsement by King County or Metro endorsement of, or value judgment on, the message being advertised."

Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke said the only ads the agency generally rejects are ads for alcohol, tobacco, or adult entertainment. Last year around this time, Metro got in trouble with religious groups when it ran ads sponsored by an atheist group that read "Yes, Virginia, There Is No God." Thielke says the agency did reject an ad for the video game Left 4 Dead because it has an "M" (for mature) rating. And earlier this year, some groups wanted Metro to ban an ad for the puppet musical "Avenue Q," which included a puppet with cleavage.

However, Metro does not have a policy allowing it to bar ads based on ideology. "We're a government agency, so we have to be mindful of the federal and state constitutions," which protect free speech, Thielke says. "The prosecuting attorney's office has said it doesn't violate the standards that we set" for objectionable language.

Neither the Jewish Federation nor the Mideast Awareness Campaign immediately responded to requests for comment.
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