Jewish New Yorker Campaigns Against Anti-Islam Ads

For the grandson of Holocaust victims, the anti-Islam posters in subway stations last fall triggered a call to action: starting the crowd-funded advertising campaign “Talk Back to Hate” to push back at what he saw as hostile message from the Jewish-led American Freedom Defense Initiative.

On the Jewish Daily Forward’s blog, Forward Thinking, Michael Kaminer exchanged emails with the campaign starter, non-profit executive Akiva Freidlin, 30, who deemed the posters as “demonizing” Muslims and bearing a “craven and cynical” message.

A Talk Back to the Hate ad reads: “Hatred Is Easy. It Is Love That Requires True Strength and Courage.” (Photo via Jewish Daily Forward)

The inaugural Talk Back to Hate ad: A stylized apple bearing the inscription, “Hatred Is Easy. It Is Love That Requires True Strength and Courage.” The line came from Dorothy Zink, a volunteer from Huntington Beach, Calif.

Entirely crowdfunded, Freidlin’s campaign has raised more than $10,000 from as far as Dubai. Much of the funding paid for the first ten “Talk Back to Hate” ads in high-traffic New York City subway stations like Times Square and Rockefeller Center (for ad locations, see http://talkbacktohate.org/our-ads/). The ads will appear throughout New York until March 24.

Freidlin’s now raising money for another flight. “Don’t let hate get the last word,” implores the Talk Back to Hate site. “If you chip in, we’ll buy our own ads – and run them in as many stations as we can.”

In one of his questions, Kaminer asks Freidlin why he mentions that he’s the grandson of Holocaust survivors on the Talk Back to Hate website, to which Freidlin responds:

As a result of carrying that historical memory, I am wary of any effort to intimidate, demonize, or stigmatize the individual members of any religious or ethnic group. I find it particularly disturbing to see it done in such a craven and cynical manner, in a city that thrives on diversity, in a country founded on pluralism.

When I thought of the campaign, I had actually hoped to avoid attaching my name or identity. I haven’t done anything like this before and the thought of publicly linking myself to the project made me nervous. I decided to do so only because it seemed unlikely that anyone would contribute money to a campaign made up by some guy on the internet who wouldn’t even reveal his name. After making that decision, it seemed important to explain my connection to the issue.

In another question, Kaminer asks: “What kinds of reactions have you had from Muslims? Are they surprised or skeptical that a Jew’s behind the campaign? Have any Jews been upset?”

A significant portion of our contributors are Muslims, and we have received supportive messages from all over the Islamic world via social media. I can’t speak for them, but I don’t get the impression that they’re skeptical or particularly surprised about who I am. The fact that I’m Jewish is intriguing, and it’s part of my personal reason for starting this, but to me the campaign expresses values that transcend any particular religious or ethnic boundary. And I think people connect to it on that level.

I’ve had a couple of angry responses online from people who appear to be Jewish, based on their social media profiles. I hope that they will remember what I see as one of Judaism’s great contributions to human culture, the commandment that “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” I’ve had a much greater volume of response from Jews who try to keep this idea in mind.

Read the rest of the interview on the Jewish Daily Forward. The campaign is currently raising money until March 20 via Indiegogo to run another set of ads.

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