A similar advertisement displayed at a downtown Vancouver train station earlier this year (from the Toronto Star).

 

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) controversially rejected a campaign of pro-Palestinian advertisements from the Montreal-based group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), citing its policy against statements that could incite discrimination—in this case, against Jewish or Israeli people. The ad campaign, which would have appeared on TTC buses and subways, centers on a series of four maps that show the loss of Palestinian territory since 1946.

The TTC’s rejection of the CJPME ad pitch is only the latest development in a larger advertising battle over the framing of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. A handful of people have already noted the CJPME campaign’s resemblance of the Palestinian Awareness Coalition’s (PAC) four-map ad of a shrinking Palestine (titled “Disappearing Palestine”) that appeared on Vancouver public transit in August.

Meryle Kates, who heads the Toronto branch of the pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs, said her organization has a history with the two groups.

“They [the CJMPE and PAC] have the same agenda,” Kates explained. “Same agenda, different group. We’ve dealt with them before.”

In fact, only three weeks ago StandWithUs launched its own ad campaign in Vancouver in an effort to counteract the PAC’s “inaccurate” message. The pro-Israel campaign, which began on October 14 and will run until November 14, 2013, hinges on two images: a three-map display of Jewish loss of land from 1000 BCE to present and a photo of jubilant children waving Canadian and Israeli flags in unison.

Kates is frustrated that this growing pan-Canadian advertising war is a “waste of resources” and “not the proper medium for the issue.” This, coupled with her view of the CJPME and PAC’s ads as “misrepresentative” and “delegitimizing,” explained why she and others who share her pro-Israel viewpoint support the TTC’s decision to reject the CJPME campaign.

Yet those with a pro-Palestinian perspective, such as Mariam Assaad, the president of the University of Toronto-Mississauga Middle Eastern Students Association, take the opposite stance.

“The [CJPME] maps are showing the reality of what thousands of Palestinians had to go through over the years,” the third-year Digital Enterprise Management specialist said. “They show the change in territory ownership in a very accurate way.”

Assaad, who is of Palestinian descent, strongly disagrees with the TTC’s decision to reject the CJPME’s ad campaign. To her, advertising is a constructive medium that reaches all strata of society: “The medium is the message and this medium is accessible by people from every class, culture, and ethnicity.”

The stark disagreement regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not something that is resolvable through bus advertisements. But Kates’ claim that advertising isn’t the appropriate medium for the issue overlooks the fact that it could get people discussing an important issue—an issue that’s been left unresolved and thoroughly under-discussed in the West for over a half-century.

By refusing the ad, the TTC has roused discussion on Israel-Palestine and the role of political advertising more generally. Regardless of the TTC’s stance, they have indirectly introduced a provocative debate.


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