Interfaith Groups Combat Message of Anti-Muslim Ads on SEPTA

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Mayor Michael Nutter is set to hold news conference with religious leaders. 

To counter anti-Muslim advertisements on SEPTA buses, Mayor Michael Nutter is speaking out and a coalition of organizations are putting up a billboard promoting interfaith understanding.

Nutter and religious leaders plan to hold a new conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Love Park. The Interfaith Center of Philadelphia has launched a Dare to Understand public messaging campaign with a website and petition and plans for a billboard in Philadelphia.

The effort comes after the public transportation agency decided not to appeal a judge’s decision that the American Freedom Defense Initiative could run advertisements which state "Islamic Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran" and show a picture of Hitler meeting with an Islamic leader in the 1940s.

SEPTA will also tighten its advertisement standards to prohibit such advertisements in the future, according to the agency.

A coalition of organizations launched the counter campaign on Friday and are planning to spread their message on social media and in public space, including the billboard along the I-76 Schuylkill Expressway, according to Abby Stamelman Hocky, director of the Interfaith Center, which is coordinating the effort.

The center is going to use the campaign as a way for “people of all faith traditions” to share ways “they would like to be understood and ways they have been misunderstood and a way to stand together and say we’re not going to believe any statements that people make about Jews, Muslims, Christians,” said Hocky. The aim is “not talking about one another but talking with one another and getting to know one another.”

She said she hopes this serves “as a teachable moment,” and that the campaign will mitigate any potential backlash toward Jews or Muslims.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative purchased the advertisements for $30,000 and they will run on the sides of 84 buses for one month, according to SEPTA. The group has won court battles and run its ads in Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco.

"We were responding to anti-Semitic, anti-Israel ads that ran in major cities across the country," Pamela Geller, the founder of the organization, said in an email to the Exponent after the judge issued its ruling earlier this month. "Lies must be countered with the truth."

The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia sent a letter to rabbis on Sunday alerting them to the advertisements and explaining that the organization saw the message as a distortion of the facts.

“The substance of these ads and the claim the Koran is anti-Semitic is really just not fair and not accurate,” said Adam Kessler, director of JCRC. ”We know that all ancient texts — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — can contain negative references to the so-called non believers.”

He added, “The stereotyping of Muslims in these bus ads is  something Jews should be particularly sensitive to as we suffered under this same kind of negative stereotyping for millennia."

 

 

 

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