Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Coming to a bus near you?

Vancouver's Skytrain has been put in the middle of a bloody political conflict that many Canadians would rather not talk about.

According to the CBC, this poster was placed by The Palestine Awareness Coalition on TransLink media in Greater Vancouver.

Here's their side of the story:
The realities of Palestinian land loss are on display in Vancouver, as a new series of transit ads has been posted at the Vancouver City Centre SkyTrain station and on 15 TransLink buses, on August 27, 2013. The ads, created by the Palestine Awareness Coalition, made up of seven Vancouver-area peace and justice groups, depict the “disappearance” of Palestine due to Israeli occupation over the past 66 years. 
“The goal of the advertising campaign is to make the Canadian public aware of Israel’s steady absorption of Palestinian territory from 1946 to the present day and the constant oppression that accompanies that occupation,” said Martha Roth of Independent Jewish Voices, one of the groups in the coalition. 

And here is another POV from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver:
It is our assessment that these advertisements distort history, are malicious and essentially question the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. 
We believe it is no coincidence that this advertising campaign will coincide with the sacred holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 
TransLink—the regional transit authority—has a clearly defined set of advertising policies and guidelines, which restrict the display of ads that make public transit unwelcoming for any ethnic or racial group—the appropriateness of which has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. 
As the advocacy arm of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, CIJA | Pacific Region has addressed this issue directly with TransLink—both with members of its Board and its Management—and has asked the transit authority to comply with its stated policies and withdraw its approval for the ads. 
TransLink has since confirmed that they have reviewed the matter and that they recognize the offensive and provocative nature of the advertisements. Despite our view that the advertisements contravene TransLink’s own policies, TransLink has decided to proceed with allowing the advertisements to be displayed. 
Public opinion toward Israel will not change as a result of these ads. Support for Israel locally, provincially and federally across the political spectrum has never been stronger.The objective of the sponsoring groups is clear: to gain publicity for their marginalized views, which fall outside of mainstream Canadian opinion. Countering these ads in the public domain (on buses, for example) would only raise the profile and lend credibility to these marginal groups. 
Our community is strengthened by its diversity of opinions and views. However, on the core issue of Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state in peace and security – we stand together.
And here is TransLink's statement:
TransLink does not endorse nor advocate any position put forward by outside advertisers. In addition, as a public agency, TransLink's advertising policy cannot violate freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freedom of expression is a protected right under the Charter. 
TransLink does not have the legal authority to deny ads as long as the ads comply with the Code of Canadian Advertising Standards, other laws such as the Human Rights Act and TransLink's Advertising Policy. This is in accordance with a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down the portion of TransLink's Advertising Policy that prohibited advocacy ads. 
The Disappearing Palestine ad was referred to the Canadian Advertising Standards office for review by Lamar (the contracted agency that oversees ad placements and buys on our transit system) prior to its placement. In addition, TransLink sought a third-party legal opinion about this ad with regard to the Canadian Charter. That legal advice noted the Supreme Court of Canada decided that TransLink is subject to the Charter in its role as the host of advertising. 
If TransLink accepts advertising, it must not restrict content, (i.e., the freedom of expression of its advertising customer or potential customer under Section 2(b) of the Charter) except in accordance with Section 1 of the Charter which makes all Charter Rights subject to "such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." TransLink has been advised that no such "limit prescribed by law" would prohibit the Disappearing Palestine advertisement under TransLink's Advertising Policy, the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, or other applicable "law" such as the Human Rights Act. 
We appreciate that some advertisements on the transit system may cause concern for customers. However, our advertising policy is posted online and guides all advertising on TransLink property. Concerns about this ad - or any advertising on the transit system - can be referred to the Canadian Advertising Standards office. 
As a transparent public organization, we continue to uphold the laws of our country while we work to provide the best possible customer service. We hope concerned customers understand that within defined limits TransLink has no legal authority to decline advertising content.
So here we have three ways of looking at an ad. The Palestine Awareness Coalition was careful to keep it factual and historical/geographical, which got Code approval. The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was correct in seeing the placement and timing as deliberately provocative and polarizing — but they provoked back harder by referring to the Palestinians as having "marginalized views". (As a messaging geek, I have to point out that they should have used "marginal" since "marginalized" implies deliberate attempts to push into obscurity.) TransLink is complying with the Charter, which overrules their own ad policy. What else can they do?

So, who's in the right? Here in Canada, where we'd rather not think about our own past of Protestant vs. Catholic, and English vs. French (not to mention European vs. Aboriginal) violence, it's always difficult when other imported conflicts cause divisions between friends  in our multicultural society.

 Let's just hope some constructive discussion comes out of this.

UPDATE: The campaign is planned to run in other Canadian cities as well.

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