NEW YORK -- The war of words playing out on New York City subway ads has been kicked up a notch by Jewish and Christian faith groups who have responded to inflammatory antijihad ads posted in September.
Rabbis for Human Rights North America and the Christian group Sojourners posted their own ads in 20 subway stations on October 8. The rabbis' ads read: "In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors." The Christian group's say, "Love your Muslim neighbors."
The groups made the decision to post the ads in response to an antijihad advertising campaign that has been widely denounced by critics as Islamophobic. Those ads say: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man; Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
The "defeat jihad" advertising campaign was orchestrated by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which is classified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
AFDI Executive Director Pamela Geller told RFE/RL in an e-mail in September that the "defeat jihad" ads were a tit-for-tat response to a campaign by a pro-Palestinian rights coalition that has been running on public transportation since 2010.
She said she had launched the campaign "because our liberties are at stake," adding: "This is a war on freedom. I refuse to sacrifice my freedom so as not to offend savages."
'Choose Love Over Hatred'
Rachel Kahn-Troster is the director of North American programs at Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that claims 1,800 rabbis as members -- a figure Kahn-Troster says represents more than half of the population of working rabbis in North America.
Kahn-Troster says there was an outcry by those rabbis after what she describes as AFDI's "incredibly offensive" ads. "We had started to receive messages from our members asking us what we were going to do, how we were going to respond, how we were going to speak out as Jews and as rabbis against this message of hatred that was being perpetuated against our Muslim neighbors and friends," she says.
She says her group is one of many to condemn the posters. On October 3, faith group United Methodist Women placed similar ads on the subway, which read, "Hate speech is not civilized."
"We've been really gratified by the response to the ads both in the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the Christian community," Kahn-Troster says. "I think it really shows that the message we're promoting -- one of choosing love over hatred -- is one that is embraced by the majority of New Yorkers."
In a statement, Sojourners president and CEO Reverend Jim Wallis said: "When Jesus said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' he didn't add stipulations. He didn't offer any extra addendums or added qualifiers. Christians around the world need to put that into action as often as we can, especially where we see hatred like this."
The Christian and Jewish groups' pro-Muslim ads were posted on the same 10 subway platforms that the "defeat jihad" ads were, plus 10 more. The Rabbis for Human Rights ads include a link to a website that has a petition calling on New York City officials to denounce the "defeat jihad" ads and to urge city solidarity with "Muslim neighbors and friends."
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) initially rejected AFDI's request to run the "defeat jihad" advertisements but that decision was overruled on appeal by a federal district court. According to "The New York Times," the MTA argued against allowing the ads because they were "demeaning."
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovon told RFE/RL, "Our hands are tied."
Asked to respond to the pro-Muslim ads, Geller e-mailed: "These rabbis have good intentions. I am all for choosing love. My own ad is not hate speech, it's love speech. It's love of life speech."
On October 8, her group posted "defeat jihad" ads in four Washington, D.C., subway stations.