Adolf Hitler’s image appeared on commuter bus ads in Philadelphia, along with Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during World War II, which created much fury among the Muslim community, as well as other groups. Several groups on different ends of the religious spectrum have taken part in opposing the ads. Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, joined them a rally opposing the ads, that included interfaith groups, such as The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, which plans to run its own ad campaign titled, “Dare to Understand,” with the purpose of promoting tolerance, respect, and understanding.
The bus ad campaign on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) buses creating the fury, features a photo Hitler and Husseini. Below it is the tagline, “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran,” as well as a call to “end all aid to Islamic countries.” The ads were sponsored by a pro-Israel group called American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) led by Pamela Geller, a pro-Israel blogger who is opposed to providing aid to countries run by Islamic law, also known as Sharia. Several of these Islamic nations are technically at war with Israel and have used the funds to build up its military or fund terrorists who aim to attack, not only Israeli civilian targets, but also Jewish communities abroad.
The figures depicted on the ad account for both of the aforementioned strategies. Hitler, the founder of the Nazi party, came to power in Germany in 1933. During his 12 year reign of terror, he was responsible for wiping out 6 million of Europe’s Jews, roughly a third of the world’s Jewish population, and about a tenth of the 60 million total lives claimed during World War II. Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who was a close ally of Hitler at the time, began a similar campaign in British mandated Palestine at the time, organizing massacres against the indigenous Jewish communities, many which had predated Islam.
In addition to his campaign to drive out existing Jewish populations, Husseini embarked on a campaign to further prevent a strong Jewish presence in British mandated Palestine. He not only urged the British to outlaw Jewish purchases of land, he also demanded that the British put a stop to the immigration of Jews fleeing the Nazi inferno of Europe. Jewish immigration was reduced to a trickle, while at the same time Husseini forced migrations of Arab groups from outside the borders of British mandated Palestine, in order to offset the existing Jewish population.
Following the Arab Revolt, which he sparked in 1936, and continued through 1939 where thousands of Jews and Britons were murdered, Husseini was removed from power and fled to other Arab countries, helping to foment rebellion of pro-Nazi Groups against the pro-Allied governments. After failing in his campaign, Husseini traveled to Germany, where he met with Hitler personally and toured the death camps, which inspired him not only to implement Hitler’s final solution at home, but also to take part in the Ustasha regime of Yugoslavia, which was responsible for the murder of roughly 700,000 Serbs.
The ad campaign, featuring Hitler and Husseini, which has created fury, was originally scheduled to be launched in September 2014, but due to court case it was held off until April. In the court case, SEPTA board chair, Pat Deon stated that he did not approve, or support the view of the ad, however a federal judge ordered him to allow it to run based on freedom of speech. It has now made its debut in Philadelphia as of the first week of April, and is slated to appear on 84 buses over the course of time. The ad has already appeared on buses in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Though the image of Hitler and Husseini has caused quite an outrage, it is not the first time ads targeting a certain group or country have been allowed to run on the basis of free speech. In 2013, pro-Palestinian group sparked off an ad war when the group, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) put up poster ads in New York City subway stations which called for the U.S. to stop supporting Israel, and labeling Israel as an apartheid state.
In an even larger scale campaign, the Palestine Awareness Coalition sponsored ads throughout the U.S. and Canada, called “Disappearing Palestine.” It featured a sequence of maps with Israel, expanding at the expense of a Palestinian nation into its present day borders including the territories currently being negotiated. Jewish groups blasted AMP for its false and inaccurate description, stating that not only had the area been sparsely populated before Israel’s creation, but that it failed to take into account the nature of the British mandate and the Arab revolts, which resulted in forced Jewish population transfers. When groups like B’nei Brith petitioned to have the ad taken down, they were also met with arguments of free speech and suggestions to counteract with their own.
Along with the fury the bus ads had created among Muslim groups, several Jewish organizations have also expressed their opposition depiction of Hitler and Husseini. Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional director, Nancy Baron-Baer, called the paid ads “anti-Muslim,” “inflammatory,” and “highly offensive.” However, she also expressed her support for the U.S. Constitution First Amendment, and that censorship will only inhibit free speech. The only way to combat such hate speech, she concluded, is with more education and dialogue. The Jewish Voices for Peace group went further to say that the advertisement is in fact inaccurate and trivializes the memory of the Holocaust.
By Bill Ades