Israeli Bus Companies Remove Ad on Settler Violence Amid Right-wing Pressure

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The organizations' bus advertisement.
The organizations' bus advertisement.

Two major Israel bus companies decided to remove advertising from a group of Israeli human rights organizations calling “to stop settler violence” against Palestinians in the West Bank, allegedly caving to pressure from right-wing organizations.

The ad relates to an attack at the end of September on residents of the Palestinian village of Khirbet al-Mufkara in which dozens of masked assailants throwing stones at homes and cars, damaging other property and injuring a 3-year-old boy, who was taken to the hospital.

Avner Gvaryahu, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, said that an inquiry into the ad’s withdrawal found that the companies, Egged and Dan, received threats from right-wing groups, though both bus companies deny this. Egged said the ad went up “by mistake” and was not approved by their management, while Dan said that the ad went up without the company’s knowledge.

“A 3-year-old Palestinian boy is wounded in a terrorist attack,” the ad read. “The time has come to stop the settler violence. Gantz, Bar-Lev, it’s on you,” referring to the Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. The groups that sponsored the advert include the left-wing organizations Breaking the Silence, Standing Together, Combatants for Peace, Yesh Din, Zazim, Mehazkim and Peace Now.

The scene of the attack in Khirbet al-Mufkara last week.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

After the posters originally went up on Sunday, several right-wing figures and groups called on the companies to take down the adverts. Right-wing group B’Tsalmo sent a letter to Egged, urging them to take down the adverts, which they described as a “campaign of hate.” The rapper Yoav Eliasi (who is known as “The Shadow”) took to Facebook to express his opposition, while far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir praised the U-turn on Twitter.

Following the retraction, the groups who publicized the ad called on Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli to intervene and demand clarifications. “We’re not surprised at the settler right-wing, which continues to become more extreme and to live in denial, but we are shocked and surprised by the decision of the public transportation companies, which instead of standing guard for freedom of expression, have chosen to bend to threats,” the organizations said.

They added that “settler violence is not a political opinion but a fact on the ground. Anyone who would turn the condemnation of a violent pogrom and an assault on a 3-year-old boy into a controversial subject has gone off the rails.”

Egged, which has the largest bus network in the country, called the campaign “divisive and contrarian,” explaining that it had not been approved by Egged’s management in advance and had been placed by mistake on “a handful” of buses in Jerusalem. The company said that its buses are not meant to be a forum for “polarizing and divisive” political advertising and that any complaints in this regard should be directed to the Transportation Ministry, which sets the policies under which the company operates. According to the company, it will invite the new franchiser, who will place adverts in the Gush Dan area, to a meeting to refresh procedures.

In light of this, Haaretz asked Egged about controversial ads from the anti-abortion group Efrat. The company said it was “self-promotion that describes a worldview.” With regard to advertising for the right-wing political group Otzma Le’Yisrael, the company called it “borderline and controversial but at the same time it only describes a worldview and realia [real life] without hurting or insulting others.” However, in regards to ads from the right-wing organization Regavim against the establishment of a Palestinian state, the company said the ad campaign was "divisive and offensive," and that it should have been removed immediately. They clarified that the franchiser who placed it on the bus had not checked with the company in advance.

The Dan bus company, which is popular in the Tel Aviv area, said that the advertising on violence against Palestinians was put up “without the knowledge of the company” and that the company refrains from any political affiliation and “serves the entire Israeli public and is not involved in political conflicts.” The company said that it had asked the franchiser who placed the ads to refrain immediately from placing ads with political content.

Three months ago, a Breaking the Silence ad on an Israel Tax Authority building was removed following a complaint from  B’Tsalmo. Breaking the Silence said that it later contacted an advertising firm in an effort to place ads on bridges in Jerusalem, but the company, according to Breaking the Silence, said it was concerned that they would be set on fire.

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