Savage Ads and the Power of “We”

DC — like NYC and San Fransisco before it — refuses to let outside hate groups define a “we” and a “they” for the town or for its visitors. Ads displayed in the public transit systems of San Francisco and New York City in recent weeks and now in metro Washington suggest that there is a “civilized,” Israel-supporting “we” and a “savage,” Islam-practicing “they.” But, like previous cities inflicted with “savage” ads, DC is not falling for it. It is providential, therefore, that today is “Blog Action Day” and that this year’s theme is “the power of we.”

No “They” Here

For the District, there is no “we” to associate with Israel: Voting representatives in Congress — for whom DC is temporary home, and of whom DC has none of its own — hold a variety of positions on Israel; other US and foreign government and NGO officials hold a range of views; DC as a civic entity holds no position on Israel. There’s no “they” here, with any position (or lack thereof) on Israel.

DC’s “we” includes Muslims, for whom jihad is a spiritual struggle unrelated to any form of violence or terror; DC’s “we” includes Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, members of the Ethical Society, atheists, and a wonderful variety of religious and non-religious individuals.

DC’s “we” includes native-born individuals and transplants from all the over country and abroad. “We” here means urbanites and folks who are country at heart. “We” means fans of Hip-Hop, Blues, and Symphony. Perhaps Cardinals fans were “they” for a few days, there, last week. Otherwise, there is no room for “they” in our Metros or elsewhere in town.

Savage Ads

Purchased by Pamela Geller‘s American Freedom Defense Initiative, the ads avoid outright charges of “hate speech” only by failing to make explicit one step in basic transitive logic:

[Ad text:] “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
[Unstated premise:] Israel is civilized. The savage engages in jihad, a Muslim practice.
[Ad text:] “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

For more on AFDI and its “Islamophobia Network in America,” see Fear, Inc., the Center for American Progress’ 2011 report.

Counter Messages:
“Love,” “Forgiveness,” “Peace” and “Neighbors”

When the ads appeared in NYC, counter-ads promoting tolerance were purchased by Rabbis for Human Rights-NA; Sojourners (a Christian group); and a coalition including the New Evangelical Partnership, the Islamic Society of North America, and United Methodist Women. These counter-ads are being mounted in DC as well. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also launched a DC counter-ad campaign.

For fund-raising and logistical reasons, all counter ads did not appear simultaneously with the “savage” ads. Meanwhile, individuals and small groups across DC stood in protest. See, e.g., Fabrangen Havurah. In both NYC and DC, individuals engaged in a variety of legal and illegal responses: small-scale pickets, affixing “hate speech” or “racist” stickers to the signs, and, in at least one case, turning the sign backward in its display case.

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington issued a statement condemning the ads, and Shoulder-to-Shoulder has also responded.

The Power of We

Many in the DC Jewish community worry that the “savage” ads, appearing — however deceitfully — to call for support of Israel, could damage relations between Jews and Muslims here and abroad. But, across town and beyond, when I express regret that the ads might be understood as Jewish attacks on Muslims, my Muslim brothers and sisters just shake their heads with a “we know” that encompasses all who know better than to fall for it. Sorry, AFDI, no “they” here. The “power of we.”

Published by


Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

One thought on “Savage Ads and the Power of “We””

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s