WASHINGTON: A US lawmaker called Wednesday for a boycott of Washington's Metro system over a controversial advertisement by a pro-Israel group that describes Muslim radicals as "savages."
The advertisements, which have also run on trains in New York and buses in San Francisco, went up this week at four stations in the US capital area after a federal judge ruled that the group enjoyed a right to free speech.
Citing security concerns, the operator of the Metro had sought to delay the billboards, which read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
Representative Mike Honda, a Democrat from California, said he supported the US Constitution's guarantee of free speech and understood the court order for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to run the advertisements.
"The right to not support hate speech is also a right, which is why I encourage people to boycott, if possible, WMATA until the ad buy is finished. We do not have to support hate speech," Honda said in a statement.
Honda, who as a child was interned at a camp due to his Japanese ancestry, said he took the issue "very personally" as he remembered during World War II the "hateful billboards and caricatures that equated Japanese Americans to savages."
"We learn from history that hate speech and hysteria have dire consequences, the result of societal complacency, failed political leadership and the lack of courage to stand up and speak out against hate," he said.
Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that is running the advertisements, rejected charges that the language of the billboards impugned the character of all Muslims.
"The ad mentions jihad. It is asking people to oppose those who commit jihad attacks against innocent civilians, and those who celebrate the attackers as heroes," she said.
"All jihad terrorists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are jihad terrorists. So why should any Muslim who opposes jihad feel his character impugned?" she said.
Geller has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, the most prominent US group fighting anti-Semitism, which has accused her of "virulent anti-Muslim bigotry and conspiracy theories."
Seeking the delay, the Metro operator had voiced concern about running the billboards in the wake of anti-US attacks in the Islamic world that followed the release of an amateurish video that mocked Islam.