Outcry in San Francisco over anti-Muslim Nazi adverts protected by freedom of speech

City officials say they oppose the adverts but are obliged to run them on local buses

There has been outrage in the city of San Francisco after a right-wing anti-Islamic group took out adverts on local buses likening Muslims to the Nazis. City officials say they are obliged to run the adverts, even though they disapprove of them.

A group called the American Freedom Defence Initiative bought 50 large hoardings to be placed on buses in the area. They show an image of Adolf Hitler with Haj Amin al­Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist and Muslim leader who sided with Hitler and Mussolini in World War II, and the words: “Islamic Jew­Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the group behind the advertisements, placed just days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France and the tense aftermath, had last year paid for similar hoardings.

They showed a photograph of Osama bin Laden and an image of a victim of the Fort Hood shooting along with a quote, allegedly taken from a Hamas television channel, which said: “Killing Jews is worship that brings us closer to Allah.”

The American Freedom Defence Initiative on Thursday defended its campaign. In an email, its president, Pam Geller, told The Independent: "Jew-hatred is growing increasingly open, aggressive and virulent. Yet our government, law enforcement and media are completely in denial about this problem. My ads are designed to call attention to the problem, raise awareness, and become the impetus for some action to stop this thuggery and hatred.”

Officials in San Francisco have battled to prevent the adverts being put up but said that Ms Gelller’s group had secured a legal ruling that said the right to do so was protected under the constitutional right to free speech.

City leaders, including Mayor Ed Lee and District Attorney George Gascón, have condemned those advertisements as racist and Islamophobic. In previous years, revenue from the adverts has been sent to the city’s Human Rights Commission.

In 2012, the American Freedom Defence Initiative unrolled another campaign saying: “In any war between the civilised man and the savage, support the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

gellercrop.jpgTo counter the anti-Muslim adverts, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority has put up its own advertisements promoting peace and tolerance.

Spokesman Paul Rose apologised to people who were offended by the anti-Muslim adverts but said they were legally obliged to put them up.

“We understand and apologise that people could be offended by these ads,” he told local media. “Neither the city nor of the transportation authority endorse the content of these negative ads. However, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, including speech that is considered offensive."

In a statement, the local office of the Council on Arabic-Islamic Relations said, “Though we find these Islamophobic advertisements to be reprehensible, they are protected by the First Amendment, as is our ability to speak out against them."

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