Institute for Historical Review ad in the Montgomery BART station, September 2018 (Photo/Maya Mirsky)
Institute for Historical Review ad in the Montgomery BART station, September 2018 (Photo/Maya Mirsky)

New BART advertising rules in response to Holocaust denial ad

After complaints about ads that ran in two downtown San Francisco BART stations in September touting a known Holocaust-denying group, BART’s board of directors voted yesterday to approve new guidelines that give it greater discretion in limiting ads deemed to have objectionable content.

Noting that the transit authority’s ad policy is meant to promote “a safe and welcoming environment for all BART passengers” and avoid “content that the community could view as inappropriate or harmful to the public,” BART directors voted Dec. 6 to prohibit ads that contain “material that belittles or is dismissive of genocide” or that is “so objectionable under contemporary community standards as to make it reasonably foreseeable that the material will result in harm (including loss of ridership).”

The updated guidelines emerged in the wake of the digital display ads paid for by the Institute for Historical Review, a Holocaust-denying organization that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The ads were displayed on digital boards in San Francisco’s Montgomery and Powell BART stations through September, coinciding with the High Holidays. They depicted a map of the world overlaid with the words “History Matters,” along with the name of the group.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told J. at the time that as a governmental agency, BART could not reject ads based solely on the identity of the advertiser. Since the IHR ad contained no offensive imagery or text, Trost said, BART was obligated to accept the $6,400 ad buy. BART did require the group to remove its web address from the ad.

The IHR attempted to make a similar ad buy in the Washington, D.C., Metro system but was turned down because “their system has its own policies and procedures,” according to Trost.

On its website, the Orange County-based IHR notes that “Zionist groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League routinely smear the IHR.”

It lists among its speakers “renowned historian” David Irving, the notorious Holocaust denier who unsuccessfully sued Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt for libel in a British court in 1996.

After the BART ads ran, a number of Jewish community leaders and organizations, including theS.F.-based ADL and Jewish Community Relations Council, pressed BART to make changes to its advertising policies.

In September, Seth Brysk, regional director of the ADL, said his organization had reached out to BART leadership “to make sure they were aware of the ad and the nature of the group, their background and their intentions. We raised concerns that this ad is offensive, [and that it] promotes an organization which is trying to espouse extreme and offensive views that particularly target the Jewish community.”

Said JCRC spokesperson Jeremy Russell after this week’s board vote, “We are very grateful to the BART board for approving revisions to its advertising policy that will give BART greater discretion to address hateful ads on the system.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.