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MBTA’s advertising dispute: Speech without name-calling

The anti-Islamist group that’s suing the MBTA for rejecting its ad raises an important point: Guidelines for political advertising on the T must be enforced consistently. It’s a sensitive task for T managers, and their pledge to judge all submissions equally is admirable. There is no evidence the T violated its policy in rejecting the ad from a nonprofit group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

The T says it bars any ad that is “demeaning or disparaging” — a sensible standard, if applied fairly. The ad in question declares, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” It adds, “Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” Lawyers for the AFDI said in a press release that the ad “is supportive of Israel in the debate over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.” But the text, derived from a quote by writer Ayn Rand, is clearly demeaning: Calling anyone a “savage” is an unnecessary incitement, whether directed at Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Republicans, or Democrats. The AFDI can easily make a forceful case for Israel without calling anyone “savages.” Indeed, the T has invited the group to modify the ad.


The basis for the lawsuit is the T’s decision, earlier this year, to accept a pro-Palestinian ad that showed a series of maps allegedly documenting “Palestinian loss of land” to Israel. That claim may be hotly disputed, but it isn’t “demeaning or disparaging.” The AFDI’s lawyers say that by stating that the United Nations classifies 4.7 million Palestinians as refugees, the ad is “claiming that Israel is in effect engaging in war crimes.” But that’s nowhere in the text.

The AFDI should work with the MBTA on an ad that expresses the group’s strong pro-Israel views but can’t be so obviously categorized as demeaning.