Philadelphia – Despite a concerted legal effort to prohibit what it considers a “hateful” and discriminatory message, Septa was compelled by a court ruling in early March to accept advertisements that aligns the Muslim religion with anti-semitism.
Using a photo of Adolf Hitler and wording which aligned “Jew-Hatred” of Hitler with the Islamic religion, a controversial advertisement began to appear on 84 Septa buses, April 1st, and will continue until the end of the month.
Addressing an audience of more than a hundred Jewish and Christian religious leaders ralliying in Love Park, Monday, a call for solidarity with the Muslim community of Philadelphia was the preeminent message of the gathering, as Mayor Michael Nutter recalled the city’s founding principles: “Philadelphia is a city of hope, founded on a revolutionary ideal of tolerance of differences, religious or otherwise.”
The mayor praised Septa for its efforts to reject what he labeled “objectionable and intolerable materials.”
Mayor Nutter urged city residents to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community and the “Dare to Understand” initiative, that is organizing in opposition to advertisements sponsored by the conservative “American Freedom Defense Initiative.” The advertisements – appearing on transit in cities across the country – Mr. Nutter noted, “disparage and target religious communities and people of faith.”
“We must stand in opposition to anyone who would seeks to diminish our rights,” added mayor Nutter.
“We respectfully disagree with the court,” said Francis Kelly, Assistant General Manager for Government and Public Affairs, a day ahead of the appearance of the offensive signage. However, Kelly added that, a change in policy means, “We’ll have to tolerate this for thirty days, but after the thirty days you’re not going to see these kinds of ads again.”
Mr. Kelly told El Hispano that any drivers who have any religious objections to working on the buses, “will be accommodated.”
“It’s important that all of us stand together and against these ads and against inflammatory speech,” Elad Strohmayer, Deputy Consul General Consul for Israel told El Hispano.
While acknowledging that the Jewish and Muslim communities have had their “disagreements,” Deputy Consul Strohmayer noted that the “solution to these disagreements is having a conversation. And that is the beauty of this initiative, ‘Dare to Understand.’ It calls for a conversation instead of hate speech.”
“For anyone to say that (Muslims) hate Jews or anyone else, don’t know what they’re talking about,” declared Imam Mikal Shabazz of Masjidullah in Philadelphia. He then referred to their shared heritage, noting “Muslims, Jews and Christians have the same Father.”
After applauding Septa efforts to refuse the offending advertisements, Imam Shabazz urged “passionate” young Muslims not to commit “violence or vandalism” against Septa. “It is totally the antithesis of the Islamic way and is against the way of our Prophet.”
“So don’t allow this message, from those with ulterior motives, to cause division among the family. It’s a test,” said Imam Shabazz.
Rabbi David Straus spoke on behalf of the Religious Leaders Leaders Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council, said, “The language used in these ads is distorted, prejudicial and inflames hatred. It was our hope as religious leaders that this hateful message would not be carried throughout neighborhoods of Philadelphia. We condemn the inflammatory message that serves to divide, stigmatize and ignite prejudice.”
Recalling William Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance, the Chairwoman of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, Rev. Judith Sullivan lauded the continuation of William Penn’s dream in “our gloriously diverse city, where people of faith work side by side peacefully.” She recommended participating in the “daretounderstand.org” effort that has planned seveal upcoming events.
Rabbi Straus quoted Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller, a foe of Hitler who spent 7 years in a concentration camp: “First they came for the Socialist, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionist and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”