NEW YORK (AP) — A pro-Israel group sued the city's transit authority on Wednesday, asking a court to force it to accept a bus advertisement including the phrase "Hamas Killing Jews" after it was rejected on the grounds its display could incite violence.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Manhattan by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization headed by blogger Pamela Geller that's behind the advertisement. The lawsuit sought a ruling forcing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to lift its objections and an award of unspecified damages for violations of the First and 14th amendments.
MTA spokeswoman Amanda Kwan said the agency had no comment. But the MTA on Sept. 19 issued a statement saying it was rejecting ads that include the phrase "Killing Jews" because displaying them on the backs of buses "would imminently incite or provoke violence."
According to the lawsuit, Geller's group buys the advertisements to express its message on current events and public issues "including issues such as Islam's hatred of Jews."
It said the MTA notified the group in late August that it would display three of four proposed advertisements but not an ad with the quote "Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah" because it could incite violence. In the ad, a covered face is shown next to the quote, which is attributed to "Hamas MTV." It is followed by the words: "That's his Jihad. What's yours?"
The lawsuit said the ad is particularly timely because of "ongoing terrorism conducted by Hamas operatives against Israeli civilians in the name of Islamic jihad."
It said the ad rejected by the MTA has been displayed in other major cities, including Chicago and San Francisco, without acts of violence or other lawlessness attributed to it.
In its Sept. 19 statement, the MTA said it recognized that the rejected ad was a parody of "MyJihad" ads sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which said it was promoting the concept that jihad is an individual and personal struggle rather than a violent conflict or terrorism.
But the MTA also said those ads ran on buses in other cities rather than New York.
"The MTA does not decide whether to allow or not allow a proposed advertisement based on the viewpoint that it expresses or because that viewpoint might be controversial," the statement said.
It added that MTA Director of Safety and Security Raymond Diaz concluded the proposed advertisement "would lead reasonable observers to interpret it as urging direct, violent attacks on Jews, given turmoil in Gaza, Syria and Iraq and New York City's heightened security concerns."
A court order forces the MTA to run viewpoint ads. The agency requires a disclaimer saying it doesn't endorse the views.