TORONTO — The Toronto Transit Commission is reviewing a proposal by the group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) to run an anti-Israel ad that depicts the Jewish state as an insatiable occupier.
The development comes on the heels of a similar ad campaign sponsored by the Palestine Awareness Coalition that is currently running on Vancouver’s transit system.
The Vancouver bus ad, titled “Disappearing Palestine,” show four maps spanning 1946 through 2012, which suggest Palestinian land is being overtaken by Israel.
CJPME president Thomas Woodley did not immediately return a request for comment, but he told NOW magazine that his group raised $35,000 from private donors to run the ads in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
Woodley said the group’s ad would be similar to the one currently running in Vancouver. It will include the same four maps that ran in the TransLink ad, but with different text.
A TTC spokesperson confirmed that the commission “is still in the process of reviewing the ad in question,” but did not elaborate further.
However, a 2009 Supreme Court ruling in another case, involving TransLink and political advertising sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Students and the B.C. Teachers Federation, struck down portions of the transit agency’s policy against political advertising.
“Not liking an ad, or an ad being controversial, isn’t grounds for removing an ad,” the TTC’s Brad Ross told Now. “The Supreme Court of Canada's been very clear on that.”
Howard English, senior vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the TTC has a lot to consider when deciding if it should run a political ad, especially one that marginalizes a community.
“The ads that ran in Vancouver take an extremist view of the Middle East and those ads are designed to question Israel’s right to exist,” English said.
“The TTC has to determine what is in the best interest of its passengers and the kind of precedent it will set by permitting ads like this,” he added.
“As soon as the TTC approves one set on ads, which takes a far-reaching, and we believe, an extremist position on the Middle East, it will be under enormous pressure to approve other ads as well. That’s one of the criteria they have to consider.”
TTC policy dictates that if at least five people complain about an approved ad, a three-member advertising review committee will be forced to revisit the issue.
But English said the TTC also has to consider legal issues – whether it has the right to ban political advertising.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies president and CEO Avi Benlolo warned that his organization would use its resources to produce a counter-ad if the TTC approves the CJPME ad.
But he hopes it won’t come to that.
“We are confident that reason will prevail and that the TTC will not permit the system to be used to promote hatred and lies, particularly against the only country in the Middle East that supports democracy and human rights for all its citizens,” Benlolo added.
“The ads are so misleading,” English said. “They’re really historical fantasy. There is no resemblance between historical truth and the maps that are on the Vancouver transit system right now.”
The Vancouver ad, which costs $15,000 to run for four weeks, is in a Vancouver SkyTrain station as well as on 15 buses.
Despite opposition from Jewish groups who contend that the ads are offensive, TransLink, the government transit agency that allowed the ad to run, said on its website that the ads don’t violate human rights and comply with Canadian advertising standards.
Citing an article about the Vancouver ads that ran in last week’s CJN, Toronto Councillor James Pasternak wrote on his Facebook page that he “will vigorously oppose these ads on the TTC and request their removal from SkyTrain in Vancouver.
“The messaging is false, deceptive, demonizing and discriminatory. We don't need the importation of world conflict zones on to public transit.”
Rejecting an ad campaign would not be unprecedented for the TTC.
In 2011, it declined to run an ad by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival that depicted Moses stepping out of a limousine and inadvertently flashing his blurred out genitals to the paparazzi.
In 2009, TTC rejected ads by Ashley Madison, a dating website that facilitates extramarital affairs, that said, “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”