Pro-Palestinian ads at Metro-North stations spark alarm from Jewish leaders

Provocative poster advertisements showing shrinking Palestinian land in Israel that are on display at Metro-North train platforms have alarmed leaders in the Jewish community who are concerned they could lead to acts of hate.

“This is anti-Semitic because when people think of Jews they think of the Jewish state,” said Dovid Efune, editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner. “Jews have seen this happen so many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”

The ads, which show a succession of shrinking Palestinian territory in four maps and contain a headline stating that 4.7 million Palestinians are classified as refugees by the United Nations, were paid for by an 84-year-old ex-Wall Street financier who lives in Connecticut.

“If the facts are inflammatory then they are inflammatory,” said Henry Clifford, the chairman of a 10-member group called the Committee for Peace in Israel/Palestine. “All of the Middle East is infected with the virus of the Arab-Israeli conflict. People need to know the truth of the matter.”

It is what the ads do not say about the history of Israel that is so offensive, Jewish leaders said.

“To show a map saying that Palestinian land goes from this situation in 1948 to that situation in 1967 without mentioning the fact that Israel faced existential extinction is such a gross distortion that we wouldn’t even stoop to that level to discuss is,” said Scott Richman, director of the American Jewish Committee Westchester in White Plains, referring to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Commuters reported seeing the posters in Chappaqua, Scarsdale, Mount Kisco, White Plains and Tarrytown, Richman said.

Clifford paid $25,000 to run the posters at up to 10 Metro-North stations for 30 days, he said.

He wanted to target Westchester because he was looking for “high IQ readers.”

“My audience is people who have the intellectual curiosity to have an open mind, whether they agree with it or disagree with it,” said Clifford, who said his passion for the issue was fed from a love of history and deep interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Metro-North for its part said the ads did not violate its guidelines.

“We do not decide to accept or reject a proposed ad based on the viewpoint that it expresses or because the ad might be controversial,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a release yesterday. “The MTA does not endorse the viewpoint expressed in this ad, or any of the ads that it accepts for display.”

In Chappaqua, concerned commuters brought the offensive ad to their rabbi’s attention.

“As far as we know, this is the work of individuals with little following who don’t deserve additional airtime, particularly because they present a distorted and skewed view of a complicated conflict,” said Rabbi Joshua Davidson, the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, a Reform congregation. “Obviously for all of us who love Israel and yearn for peace in the Middle East, it is incumbent upon us to recount the history and portray the conflict honestly and in its full context.”

Clifford, a former Long Island resident who lives in Essex, Conn., said it was not his intention to deceive people by leaving out important context in the ads.

“The message has to be delivered to people succinctly,” said Clifford, who has carried out similar ad campaigns in Connecticut.

Leaders in the Jewish community could not object more.

“This accuses Israel of being land grabbers and imperialistic and insensitive to its neighbors, and anybody who knows anything about history knows it is more complicated than that,” says the editor Efune. “The greatest enemy is ignorance and these ads are taking advantage of people.”