Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seattle Metropolitan Transit Authority takes a stand on the Middle East?

Hate speech against Jews and Israel on the buses of Seattle? Before I get into this issue it is important to clarify a few points about criticizing Israel. I don’t have a problem with vigorous debate on Israel and the Palestinians. Of course there is plenty of room today in the media outlets for people passionate about these issues to fight it out. There are bloggers like myself and countless forums  found on line to debate the issues. But for the Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign to buy adds on the buses of Seattle that will say “Israel War Crimes: Your taxes at work,” departs from the realm of legitimate public debate and enters the domain of hate speech. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Association  the other side, American Freedom Defense Initiative, is purchasing the same kind of advertisement which says, “One billion dollars to Hamas: Your tax dollars at work.”  Where does this get us? How do these placards on buses educate and give persuasive arguments to educate the American public?
The fact is that these kinds of strategies gain public attention and probably are effective at creating sound bite political saturation. Strangely enough the metropolitan transit authority condones this kind of transaction which makes me question why municipal government steps into the mix of a foreign policy issue and apparently take sides. What is going on Seattle, Washington?
This kind of torch throwing attack upon the average bus rider and passerby on the streets of Seattle spreads toxic rhetoric and not thoughtful dialogue. How can we ever find a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians when people are slugging it out on billboards or public buses? It reminds me when I am driving along the nation’s interstate and I will see on a gigantic billboard a picture of an embryonic infant and the message of how abortion is a form of murder. All that kind of advertising does is to inflame people. Have we not seen enough of this hatred on the reproductive rights issues? Are we now going to see this kind of escalation of the debate on peace in the Middle East thrown up onto the billboards across the cities and highways or the taxi cabs and public buses of America? Is that the way to carry on the debate in a civil way?
Obviously there is a constituency which thinks that is exactly the way. I beg to differ. These strategies of mass advertising on foreign policy issues has the effect of demonizing  two entire peoples, Palestinians and Israelis alike, at the cost of out of control flame throwing advocates for a specific position. Second, these kinds of organizations simplify complex issues to the point where no one learns the history and the background of these issues which is critical before coming to an intelligent position of these volatile issues.
I hope all of us will speak out against this kind of divisive action against Israel not just because it is hate speech when it appears on the buses of Seattle but it is also the wrong message to teach Americans that this is the appropriate way to work through controversial issues. Truly, we have enough problems teaching ourselves how to debate domestic issues without distorting and condemning entire peoples, races and ethnic groups.
Here is the link to the Jewish Telegraphic Association article on the subject.
Here is the link to the article in the Seattle newspaper for further information.
If you feel so inclined to speak out on this issue, please note the link below.
“Write your comments opposing the ad to the metro operating authority:
Please contact Linda Thielke, Transit Spokesperson for the King County Metro
in Seattle, Washington. Her e-mail address is,
If you prefer to call her, the direct number is 206-684-1151.  Please leave
her a voice mail directly at that number or send her an e-mail to voice your
Finally, this issue is not about thwarting freedom of speech. This is an issue about responsible speech and whether or not municipal government should get involved in foreign policy debates. It is about finding a constructive way to dialogue and achieve mutual understanding on the issues of our day.


Rabbi Arthur Segal said...

Shabbat Shalom chaverli Rebbe Brad:

Seattle has forgotten that 'Bus'is an apheresis (where we drop a syllable to shorten a word) of the Latin word Omnibus. It's derived from the hatter Omn├Ęs' shop named "Omnes Omnibus" which was situated in front of the first bus station in Nantes, France in 1825. "Omnes Omnibus" was a pun on the Latin sounding name of the hatter : omnes meaning "all" and omnibus means "for all" in Latin. Nantes citizens nicknamed the vehicle Omnibus.

By definition, buses belong to all. Granted that Israel's IDF admits some of it soldiers did 'war crimes,' but unfortunately this happens in all wars. War is nasty hell. Seattle's bus company is heading down a slippery slope with ads of hate speach.

Torah too belongs to all people. In was given in Sinai, no-man's land. This Shabbat, we begin Exodus. The midrash on Exodus is Mekhilta d'R' Yishmael.It covers Exodus from chapter 12 on. This deletes one of our greatest biblical motifs: the burning bush(Ex:3).
An earlier Midrash Mekhilta d'R'Shimon does cover the bush.
"Moses was tending the flock. An Angel appeared in a blazing
fire out of a bush (Ex 3:1). R'Shimon b'Yochai says: Why did God appear from heaven to speak with Moses from a bush? This bush was the thorniest of all in the world. A bird that entered it was torn limb from limb while trying to leave. The slavery of Israel in Egypt was the most oppressive slavery in the world. 'I have seen, yes, seen the affliction of my people that is in Egypt. (Ex 3:7)Why does Scripture say 'see' twice? Because after the Egyptians drowned the Hebrews' sons in water, they would embed them in buildings."

While the bush is usually used as a possitive motif, here its used to show perpetual slavery, even in Olam Ha Ba. We DO know that Pharaoh's, as well as other depots (Chinese), killed+ buried their slaves. There was no escape.

Israel isn't perfect, but we are a light to those still enslaved, showing that freedom can be achieved, albeit needing to be won over + over in each generation.

As your fellow Californian Ken Kesey said "Either you're on the bus, or you're off the bus."

Shabbat Shalom,
Chaver Avrael
Rabbi Arthur Segal

william said...

I completely agree with you, Rabbi. As you may know, this issue was resolved in the way you advocated, clearly because so many people saw it your way, as well, and made their voices heard.

Rabbi Arthur Segal said...

Shavuah Tov Chaverli Rebbe Brad:

Saint Ellen aka Ellie Lou aka Ellen Louise Freedman Segal, aka My Long Suffering Wife says :"Israel gave the world Torah; Seattle gave the world over- priced caloric coffees. Israel gave the world smoked salmon on bagels with cream cheese; Seattle tosses salmon like frisbees in Pike's Market. We survived worse."

Seattle has forgotten that the word bus derives from omnibus, for all the people. No country is perfect, not Israel, not the USA, nor any country to whom our tax dollars go. When we pick on Israel, we are only defining our own defects.

Torah was given in Sinai in no-man's land and the lessons belong to all. Today in synagogues thru out the globe we read of the burning bush, a symbol of hope and message. Yet the Mishna by R'Shimon bar Yochi describes this bush as full of thorns so that if a bird gets caught in it, it tears itself apart escaping. He further expounds on God seeing our suffering, using the word 'see' twice. He posits that this means that not only did Pharaoh kill our first born, he buried them to be slaves for kings in Egyptian after life.

We survived with God's aid Mitzraim, and were redeemed for revelation and renewal.Yet our freedom had to be won many times over there after. War is messy, war is hell. We pray and work towards shalom in every generation.

Baruch ha Shem, our children and grandkids will see peace, and we will be a light unto other nations to guide them towards peace as well.

When the Seattle buses run with the prophecy of world peace on its sides of our Isaiah, then I will applaud them for inventing a double latte mocha chocolate with hot non-fat milk coffee.

Shalom uvracha, chaverli Rebbe B.
Rabbi Arthur Segal