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Policy debate tackles anti-Israel bus ads

  • October 2, 2015


Bus ads accusing Israel of committing war crimes and engaging in ethnic cleansing have confronted public transit users and commuters across the country over the past several years, including those in Denver. What to do, if anything, about those ads has been a topic of heated debate.


One option proposed to address these and other misleading ads is to promote policies that limit advertising on public transportation to “commercial speech” only. Whether the Anti-Defamation League should support such limits was the topic of the 2015 Civil Rights Policy Debate hosted by the ADL Mountain States Civil Rights Committee on Oct. 1.


The debate was moderated by John Chanin, ADL Mountain States Board member and an attorney and partner with Lindquist & Vennum, LLP. Debaters were ADL Mountain States Board members Lauren Carboni and Adam Ross. Carboni is an attorney with Dentons US, LLP and Ross is an attorney with Greenberg Traurig, LLP. More than 30 ADL Mountain States Board members and Civil Rights Committee members were in attendance to participate in the debate and conversation.

Several arguments both for and against limiting advertising on public transportation to commercial speech were advanced. Ross argued that, while ADL is a staunch supporter of the First Amendment and freedom of speech, the organization has supported laws in the past that expose bigots and curtail hateful speech. In particular, he cited ADL’s support of anti-masking laws that prevented Ku Klux Klan members from hiding their identities in public marches and rallies. Carboni argued that ADL opposes censorship and that a commercial speech-only policy would also apply to “good” ads, or those with a positive message. She argued that ADL has long held that the best way to combat “bad” speech is with “good” speech.


Ultimately, those in attendance voted 3 to 1 against ADL supporting limits to advertising on public transportation to commercial speech only. There was widespread condemnation of the recent anti-Israel and anti-Muslim ads on public transportation vehicles across the country. At the same time, those in attendance stood behind ADL’s commitment to freedom of speech.


The topic will again be up for debate during ADL’s National Commission meeting in Denver on Oct. 15-17. The National Commission will receive feedback from all of ADL’s regions and take a final policy position on the issue during its gathering in Denver.


For more information on this issue, read ADL’s recent report titled, “Misleading the Public:  The Spread of Anti-Israel Ad Campaigns”.