Washington – A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.
It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.
First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.
A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.
AFDI has published controversial ads in response to pro-Palestinian campaigns in other cities, such as New York and Seattle. In New York, a coalition including T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights countered her efforts with their own campaign.
Geller led efforts to prevent the building of an Islamic center several blocks away from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack on Manhattan’s World Trade Center. She has been criticized by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and others for her harsh comments about Islam.
CAIR’s ads, unveiled at a Wednesday (June 11) press conference, highlight “Islam’s commitment to freedom of religion, diversity and peaceful coexistence encouraged by the teachings of the Quran,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
He also announced a crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo to raise the $41,000 it cost to design, publish and circulate the ads on multiple bus routes for a month.
“We do not shy away from debates on issues, but hate speech is a red line and I believe (Geller’s) ads have crossed the line between what is ethical and what is designed to provoke hatred in others,” Awad said at a press conference where he was flanked by Jewish and Christian clergy and activists.
In the CAIR ad text, “we let the Quran speak for itself,” he said. All three people say that the Quran’s verse 2:62 speaks for them when it says:
“Verily, those who have attained to faith, as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians … all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.”
The ad also offers a website link where people can request a free copy of the Quran for the cost of shipping ($9.95).
There was a similar showdown in 2012 when Geller’s group ran ads quoting the Quran with an image of the Twin Towers burning on 9/11. The Metropolitan Area Transit Authority lost in a court challenge to stop the ad. A federal judge ruled these issue ads have First Amendment free speech protection.
CAIR responded then with an ad of its own, quoting verse 7:199 from the Quran: “Show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.”
CAIR releases describe Geller as a member of the “anti-Muslim inner circle” who has been “repudiated by interfaith leaders.” On Wednesday, Rabbi Charles M. Feinberg, Congregation Adas Israel, said that because of Geller’s “vicious” ads, Muslims are “being yelled at and disrespected.”
Geller, responding by email, called that characterization “a calumny invented by people who are determined to discredit all foes of jihad terror, so that jihad terror can advance unopposed and unimpeded.”
In response to the ad’s text, Geller pointed to a different Quran verse, condemning people who seek a faith other than Islam as “losers.”
“CAIR knows this,” she said, “and is trying to deceive gullible non-Muslims.”
JTA contributed to this story.