On the night of Sunday 21 February, a few activists went around London Underground trains and placed their own adverts in place of the official paid ads. Their four designs of posters were all parodies of existing advertising campaigns, and they slandered Israel in various ways.
At first it seemed like these were official, authorised adverts and initially there was concern that Transport for London would allow such a hostile, misleading political campaign. But within a few hours it became clear that these ads were put up illegally by activists from the London Palestine Action group to promote the so-called “Israel Apartheid Week”, a week of anti-Israel activism that began on Canadian campuses a decade ago.
Of course, Transport for London quickly took the posters down. This was expected – even if the ads had been for a legitimate product, they were placed illegally without paying. And this was not a legitimate product. Political advertising isn’t allowed on London Transport in any case. Concerns raised by Jewish organisations and Israeli politicians, though, probably ensured that TfL acted a bit speedier and more firmly in removing them. Within 24 hours, almost all the posters had gone.
The posters do mark a couple of worrying trends. One is a willingness by anti-Israel activists to break the law as part of their defamation campaign. We’ve seen a small group of extreme protesters cause vandalism in Israeli shops and disrupt performances by Israeli artists; they seem to be branching out. On the other hand, British Transport Police are investigating this incident, so perhaps there will be arrests.
The other trend is seeing the annual hatefest of Israel Apartheid Week leaving university campuses and breaking out into the wider world. Until now, in the UK, the week was little more than a week with more anti-Israel campus events than usual.
Overall, though, the poster incident took a couple of activists, a designer and a little bit of money for printing .It’s one of those things where there is much less than meets the eye.