Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Jewish Man Investigates King County's Decision to Censor Bus Ads

Since last December this blog has been keeping tabs on a situation in Seattle, Washington, where activists affiliated with at least two of our coalition member groups paid for large billboard ads on the sides of public metro buses, demanding an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, only to have the transit authority later crumple under a backlash of anti-Palestinian pressure and reject the ads, based on supposed public security risks.

Our coverage has included: a post by our National Advocacy Director, Josh Ruebner, on the absurdity of local authorities' stated fears over running the ads, a news report from Seattle KING5 News during the hight of the controversy, and fantastic newspaper op-eds by Ed Mast, of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, and Peter Miller, of AUPHR and the US Campaign.

Our latest is a post we found at Slog, by guest blogger Howard J. Gale, PhD, a Seattle research psychologist, peace activist, and member of the Seattle Jewish community with family and friends in Israel. Gale's story exposes an apparent act of bias and blatant censorship on the part of local government.

By Howard Gale
March 23, 2011

When King County Executive Dow Constantine decided on December 23 to pull contracted Metro bus ads stating "Israeli War Crimes—Your Tax Dollars at Work," I wrote a letter, signed by over 46 members of the Seattle Jewish community, questioning that decision. During a 50-minute meeting with Constantine on January 10, he made it clear to me that the decision to ban these bus ads was based on his belief that there were serious threats—based on hard evidence—to the safety of passengers and Metro drivers. I was left with the conclusion that fear generated by serious threats of violence, rather than pressure from advocacy groups, was the central factor in his decision to pull the bus ads.

Two months later I must reassess this conclusion based on evidence revealed (1) in the February 14 Federal Court case brought by the ACLU against King County for First Amendment violations, and (2) in the documents released to me by King County in response to a request under the Washington State Public Records Act.


I have learned a few things from going through the first batch of 6,702 documents. First, the number of emails that shaped Constantine's decision to pull the ads has been grossly overestimated by King County, based on the fact that: (1) 1,369 of the documents are junk files of random characters; (2) many individual emails consist of anywhere from two to over 100 TIFF files; (3) there are a fair number of emails counted multiple times (probably due to the same email being forwarded to multiple King County addresses); (4) a very large number of the emails arrived at King County after the decision was made on December 23; and (5) at least 3,008 individual emails arrived at King County offices on December 23rd between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. as a result of a mass appeal from the powerful Texas based group “Christians United for Israel,” all these emails being 100 percent identical except for the name on the very last line (in fact, this group claims to have generated nearly 6,000 emails in this short period of time). Estimating the real number of emails will require further analysis, but it is now clear that King County's claim of over 6,000 emails creating concern will probably end up as less than 2,000 (not all of which were against the ads).