Ads critical of Israel pulled from area billboards

Clear Channel cites community standards; supporters say it's about free speech


Members of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) are still trying to figure out exactly what happened to get their messages yanked off billboards around Seattle and near Queen Anne. 

The group, which supports Palestinian rights and is a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the Middle East, has been blocked once again from posting its message. In January, Clear Channel Outdoor had signed a contract to place four signs on billboards around the city for the organization. In April, Clear Channel had placed three of the four signs on billboards that SeaMAC had rented, including one sign on Aurora Avenue, Lake City Way and one on Elliott Avenue West, just north of Lee Street. The billboard’s message read, “Equal Rights for Palestinians, stop funding the Israeli military” It was followed by the listing of a website,

According to a press release, the organization launched the billboard campaign as part of what its leadership group described as a continuing effort to “expose the misuse of U.S. taxpayer money to support Israel’s ongoing discrimination against the Palestinian people.”

But by the end of April, Clear Channel pulled the three billboards, maintaining that the “Stop 30 Billion” website promoted a campaign “that is not in keeping” with community standards.

In a statement, Clear Channel wrote that the company carefully evaluates all requests for advertising placement on a case-by-case basis. “Where necessary, we balance our belief that out-of-home advertising can contribute to our community’s discussion of serious issues with our equally strong commitment to ensure that all messages we post and any websites they promote adhere to community standards and are not offensive towards any business, group or individual,” read the statement.

But SeaMAC member Ed Mast said Clear Channel didn’t appear to have any problem with the material when it was first presented to them last fall. 

“They approved these billboard signs last fall,” Mast said. “They approved the signs again when we submitted them for a second time in January. We signed a contract for four billboards to last four weeks apiece.”

Mast said Olivia Lippen, the general manager of the Seattle Division of Clear Channel Outdoors, cited objections from groups and organizations to the messages, but she wouldn’t specify which groups had objected to the billboards. According to Mast, Lippen said concerns about the organization’s website had made Clear Channel reevaluate its decision.

Mast said he had reason to believe that Clear Channel had already examined the website before accepting the messages and had apparently found nothing wrong.

Mast said he wanted to know what, specifically, they could change to make the website more acceptable, but he maintains that Clear Channel would not say what they found about the site that was not in keeping with community standards.

“We believe that pressure from unnamed organizations is what made them pull the billboards,” Mast said.

The website in question contends that the United States has agreed to give Israel $30 billion in military aid between 2007 and 2017. The site also maintains that the Israeli military has violated the Geneva Conventions, committed ethnic cleansing and has created a system that closely resembles apartheid in its dealings with the Palestinians.

This is the second time the group has run into trouble. Last December, SeaMAC tried to launch a series of advertisements on Metro buses that read “Israeli war crimes: Your tax dollars at work.”  News of the ads resulted in a firestorm of controversy, with King County officials receiving 600 emails in one weekend about the ads. 

While the ads were initially accepted by King County, the landslide of complaints resulted in King County Executive Dow Constantine deciding to pull the ads for fear that the buses could be targets of vandalism, violence, or even terrorism. SeaMAC and the ACLU sued the county over the decision, saying it violated the organization’s freedom of speech. But a judge ruled in favor of King County. When asked if he planned to sue over Clear Channel’s decision to break the contract, Mast said the organization was still weighing its options.

“This is certainly a free speech issue,” Mast said. “These are fact-based claims that in both cases were accept, but then later cancelled. This creates a dangerous precedence for free speech in a free society.”

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