A US judge has ruled that New York City's buses must display a controversial ad, funded by a pro-Israel group, which refers to Muslims killing Jews. The American Freedom Defense Initiative argued for freedom of speech.
Manhattan Judge John Koeltl rejected arguments from New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Tuesday, ruling that the ad was protected under the US Constitution, which enshrines the principle of free speech.
The MTA first refused to display the posters in September last year, saying they "would lead reasonable observers to interpret it as urging direct, violent attacks on Jews, given turmoil in Gaza, Syria and Iraq and New York City's heightened security concerns."
'Killing Jews is worship'
The advertisement shows a threatening-looking man wearing a scarf around his head and face. To his right is a quote attributed to "Hamas MTV," saying, "Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah." Below it reads, "That's His Jihad. What's yours?"
The ads, paid for by the self-proclaimed human rights group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) intended to parody a "My Jihad" campaign by the Council on American Islamic Relations, which portrays jihad as a concept of nonviolent individual and personal struggle.
On its website, the AFDI states its objectives as going "on the offensive when legal, academic, legislative, cultural, sociological, and political actions are taken to dismantle our basic freedoms and values."
The group has previously been accused of promoting anti-Islam "hate" by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Pamela Geller, president of the AFDI, described Tuesday's ruling as a "triumph for liberty and truth."
Imminent violence unlikely
Koetl said on Tuesday, that while he was "sensitive" to the MTA's security concerns, "the defendants have not presented any objective evidence that the 'Killing Jews advertisement' would be likely to incite imminent violence."
"The defendants underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements," Koeltl wrote in the order.
The US district judge also cited previous cases where the ad had been used in Chicago and San Franciso, arguing that no violence had occurred after the advertisement was published there.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said they were "disappointed by the ruling and are reviewing our options."
Second case in a year
Last year, the AFDI successfully sued the MTA in a similar case which enabled them to display 4.6-meter-long (15-foot) side of 20 buses in the US capital, Washington DC.
The previous advertisement pictured Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler sitting opposite his “staunch ally” Haj Amin al-Husseini - the Palestinian nationalist and grand mufti of Jerusalem who allied himself with the Third Reich before and during the Second World War.
"Islamic Jew-hatred: It's in the Koran. Two-thirds of all US aid goes to Islamic countries. Stop racism. End all aid to Islamic countries," the text read.
The MTA now has 30 days in which it can decide to appeal Koetl's ruling.