The decision of the Seattle transport authority to cancel a contract to run a series of bus ads protesting Israel’s war crimes brings to mind a similar campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area, twenty years ago this month, which had a very different outcome.
On December 3, 1990, 15 large ads, 11 feet by 5 feet, began appearing in BART stations throughout the Bay Area. They displayed a picture of an Israeli soldier pointing his rifle at a group of seated Palestinian women accompanied by a text that described the situation in Occupied Palestine on the third anniversary of the First Intifada and called for stopping US aid to Israel. The ads were produced by the Middle East Peace Network, a coalition of organizations and individuals of which I was member, at a cost of $4800.
Scheduled to run a month, they were up for less than half of that when we learned they had been covered over or taken down because, we were told by Mike Collins, the vice-president of TDI, the advertising firm responsible for placing the ads, that vandals had defaced the ads with spray paint during a “one night hit.” We would, he told us, get our money refunded. None of us bought Collins’ story, particularly when he presented no evidence that the ads had actually been defaced, an act that would have involved the culprit(s) descending into the path of the subway cars and risking touching the hot third rail. Our suspicions were validated soon afterward when I and another member of the network discovered one of the ads, pristine and untouched, leaning against a back wall at one of the BART stations.