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 U.S. 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 U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech and understood the court order for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to run the advertisements.
But “the right to not support hate speech is also a right, which is why I encourage people to boycott, if possible, WMATA” and public transit in the other places where the ad is running until the ad buys are finished, Honda said in a statement.
“We do not have to support hate speech,” he added.
Honda, who as a child was interned at a camp due to his Japanese ancestry, said he took the issue “very personally” because he remembered the “hateful billboards and caricatures that equated Japanese Americans to savages” during World War II.
“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 that is running the advertisement, rejected charges that it impugned the character of all Muslims, saying that it “doesn’t mention Muslims at all.”
“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, according to AFP.
“All jihad terrorists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are jihad terrorists. So why should any Muslim who opposes jihad feel his character impugned?”
Seeking the delay in court, the Metro operator had voiced concern about running the billboards in the wake of anti-U.S. attacks in Muslim countries that followed the release of an amateurish video that mocked Islam.
A spokesman for the transit authority declined comment on the boycott call, saying that the operator had nothing to say about the advertisements beyond statements in court.
A coalition of groups including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on the transit authority to offer free space for “counter ads focused on promoting understanding and tolerance.”
In New York, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority also did not want to run the advertisement, Egyptian American columnist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for spray-painting one ad in what she called an example of non-violent protest.
This past week Jewish and Christian groups unveiled three separate ad campaigns to counter what they claim is hateful speech toward Muslims contained within the advertisement.
The new ads tout religious tolerance and offer support to the Muslim community.
“Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors,” reads one. “Support peace in word and deed,” reads another.