VANCOUVER — As Rosh Hashanah drew closer, Jews in Vancouver were anticipating the imminent posting of a series of anti-Israel advertisements at two SkyTrain stations and on the exterior of 15 buses in Vancouver.
The ads were purchased by a coalition of pro-Palestinian activists from groups including the Canada-Palestine Support Network, Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Seriously Free Speech, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and Canadian Friends of Sabeel, among others.
Titled “Disappearing Palestine,” they show four maps spanning 1946 through 2012.
“It is our assessment that these advertisements distort history, are malicious and essentially question the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver (JFGV) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Pacific region, said in a letter to the Jewish community of Vancouver.
“We believe it is no coincidence that this advertising campaign will coincide with the sacred holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
When they learned about the advertisements in late July, CIJA and JFGV quickly raised the issue with TransLink, the public organization that runs Vancouver’s transit system. The company’s advertising policies and guidelines restrict the display of advertisements that make public transit unwelcoming for any ethnic or racial group.
“TransLink confirmed that they have reviewed the matter and that they recognize the offensive and provocative nature of the advertisements,” the letter continued. “Despite our view that the advertisements contravene TransLink’s own policies, TransLink has decided to proceed with allowing the advertisements to be displayed.”
“The goals and objectives of the groups that have sponsored these ads are clear,” says Stephen Schachter, co-chair of the CIJA Pacific region. “They seek to gain publicity for marginalized views which fall outside of mainstream Canadian opinion. These ads will undoubtedly contribute to the delegitimization of the Jewish state, and in turn, of the Jewish people, and this is of grave concern to Vancouver’s Jewish community.”
In an emailed statement, Patricia MacNeil, spokesperson for TransLink, told The CJN that the company “does not endorse or advocate any position put forward by outside advertisers, [but] does not have the legal authority to deny ads as long as the ads comply with TransLink’s advertising policy, the Code of Canadian Advertising Standards and other laws such as the Human Rights Act.”
MacNeil said TransLink sought a third-party legal opinion about the Disappearing Palestine ad, and the advice said that “the Supreme Court of Canada decided that TransLink is subject to the Charter in its role as the host of advertising.”
“If TransLink accepts advertising, it must not restrict content except in accordance with Section 1 of the Charter, which makes all Charter Rights subject to ‘such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’ TransLink has been advised that no such ‘limit prescribed by law’ would prohibit the Disappearing Palestine advertisement,” MacNeil wrote.
“We appreciate that some advertisements on the transit system may cause concern for customers,” she added. “However, TransLink’s advertising policy cannot violate freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freedom of expression is a protected right under the Charter.”
Schachter disagreed. “TransLink’s advertising policies are clear, and its guidelines restrict the display of ads that make transit unwelcoming for any racial or ethnic group. We believe these ads will create an intimidating and unwelcoming environment for metro Vancouver’s Jewish community,” he said.
“We believe these ads constitute a serious breach in TransLink’s own policies and we are very disappointed that this marginal campaign aimed at delegitimizing the State of Israel will now be publicized on Vancouver’s transit system.”