What is an ad from Pam Geller calling Arabs “savages” doing on the Volokh Conspiracy?

UPDATE AND RETRACTION This post was based on a mistake. I spotted what I thought was an offensively racist ad on the Volokh Conspiracy. In fact, the image in question was part of a post discussing the legal question whether a public agency had the authority to ban such images in advertising. My apologies to Eugene Volokh, and to RBC readers for misleading them.


Despite our political differences, I’ve always had a good deal of affection and respect for Eugene Volokh, who welcomed me to UCLA and got me into blogging.

But on matters concerning Arabs specifically and Muslims generally Eugene is sometimes tempted to go well beyond the limits of decency. He promoted the silly “Egypt’s Islamists are going to allow sex with dead women” hoax, and although he later noted  “the possibility that Al Ahram and Al Arabiya may not be accurate on this,” never retracted when the  was shown be false by the simple fact that none of the people pushing it could produce the actual text of the purported proposed law. It seems to me that if you spread a rumor that holds an entire ethnic and religious group up to hatred and contempt, and the rumor turns out to have been baseless, you should take it back.

And now the Volokh Conspiracy is running the following ad:


So Arabs are “savages”? And the moral difference between this and “Jews are vermin” is … what, precisely?

Note that “” is the website of Pam Geller, who actively opposes religious freedom for Muslims.

This is especially shocking given the VC’s purported commitment to “civility”: I still remember the rivers of crocodile tears they shed because Republican politicians who had questioned  Paul Wellstone’s loyalty when he was alive were booed for having the chutzpah to show up at his memorial service after he was safely dead.

Now it’s possible that the ad was placed by some service without direct intevention by any of the Conspirators. But if so, they should take it down, quickly, apologize, and get clear with their ad service about some limits.

Update Commenter Dave Schultz points out that Eugene had a post agreeing – on a legal basis – with a court ruling that the New York transit authority had to accept this piece of filth as an ad, under First Amendment law as applied to either “designated” or “limited” public fora.  Perhaps that post helped lead to the ad plaement.

In that post, Eugene says he “sympathizes”  with “arguments that the government, acting as service provider, should be able to exclude material that is likely to greatly alienate or offend some of its customers, while still making money from material that won’t have that effect.”

Several commenters there analyze the ad as if it opposed “jihad” alone, rather than doing what it clearly does: identify Israeli Jews as “civilized” and Israeli and Palestinian Arabs as “savages,” trying to attach the scare-label “jihad” to anything that supports the Arab cause: including, presumably, objection to the forced displacement of Arab residents by settlers. Eugene is silent as to the ad’s merits; if he thinks that there’s some problem with frank anti-Arab racism other than that it might offend some of the MTA’s customers, he doesn’t say so.

There’s an argument that the courts, in applying First Adendment law, should be either content-neutral or (less restrictively) at least viewpoint-neutral. Whether that’s right or not as legal doctrine, it surely doesn’t apply to those commenting on the courts’ actions. It seems to me that Churchill took the better course when he refused to be neutral “as between the fire brigade and the fire.”





Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “Bigotry [RETRACTED]”

  1. That seems like one of those automatic banner ads that triggers whenever certain “key phrases” show up in posts. They’re pretty poorly targeted, since I’ve seen hard right-wing advertisements appear below posts that were harshly criticizing right-wing arguments, Christian ads below posts criticizing creationism, and so forth on other websites.

  2. I also suspect that this is simply a random ad based on matching phrases.

    I remember that once on Kevin Drum’s blog I had turned AdBlock off and was presented with an ad for vibrators in between comments. I’m old enough to not be easily shocked, but it was still a bit jarring to see this on a respected site (of whichever couleur). But I’m also pretty sure that Kevin had nothing whatsoever to do with the choice of that ad (nor Mother Jones).

    1. If you subscribed to Mother Jones, you’d know that (tasteful, really) ads of this genre are no stranger to those august pages – and I mean full-color column ads, not little boxes of sleazy text or classifieds. I’d not be shocked if it actually were a company specifically seeking to throw some ad dollars to MoJo.

      But I agree with your more general point: ads like this are frequently automatically generated, and even advertisers who’ve been screened sometimes switch from using the agreed-upon ad to something less acceptable. When you see something like this, you shouldn’t denounce Volokh; you should contact him (them) and give them a chance to explain and to do the right thing. Meanwhile, you can denounce Pam Atlas et al (redundant though this may be), or you can wait and denounce Volokh et al if in fact they can’t explain, and don’t do the right thing. But I think the working assumption does have to be that they had no idea this ad would run.

      1. Also, some ads result from other websites you’ve been to. Following a link to a website you would normally have no interest in may result in you seeing their ads on other websites.

      2. Warren, I normally run with AdBlock Plus (and these days, also Ghostery) enabled, so it’s extremely rare for me to see ANY ads unless I turn these extensions off.

        I don’t recall exactly why I turned AdBlock off, but that was the first time I saw an ad on MoJo. So, even if they are more frequent than I imagined, it was still a bit jarring for me at the time. 🙂

        1. My description of experiencing the world of advertising shown in Mother Jones had to do with the magazine, not the website.

          I don’t use AdBlock or similar, because I’m just as happy for website proprietors to get money from ads (it saves them asking me for cash, if nothing else), and I don’t typically visit sites likely to have especially obnoxious ads. I think the only web ads I’ve ever actually given money through have been sponsored links in Google searches, though, and those aren’t even blocked. And I often turn off Flash, and nearly always turn off my sound.

  3. The Ayn Rand quotation starting this ad is actually counterproductive, as it identifies Zionism with the racism that underpinned a discredited imperialism and colonialism. Remember baaskap and apartheid?

    Ever since the 18th-century cult of the “noble savage”, the conflict between imperialists and natives has been morally questionable to the former; the ambiguity is there much earlier without the term, in Shakespeare’s Tempest. where Ariel and Caliban are both natives of different species, and Bartolomé de las Casas took the side of the Amerindians only 23 years after Columbus’ first voyage.

    Compare this quotation from Rand’s fellow Social Darwinist Josef Goebbels in July 1941, at the start of the war with the Soviet Union:

    They [the Bolsheviks] were preparing to plunge into the heart of Europe. Human imagination is insufficient to picture what would have happened if their animal hordes had flooded into Germany and the West. The Führer’s order to the army on the night of 22 June was an act of historic magnitude. It will probably prove to be the critical decision of the war. The soldiers obeying his order are the saviors of European culture and civilization, saving it from a threat from the political underworld. Germany’s sons once again are defending not only their own land, but also the whole civilized world. Schooled firmly in the teaching of National Socialism, they storm eastward, tearing the veil of history’s greatest deception, and giving their own people and the world the opportunity to see what is, and what will come.
    They hold in their hands a torch that will keep the light of humanity from going out.

    1. Mark is not I hope talking about the copy of this ad illustrating Volokh’s post?

      1. I think it is. The ad was designed for the NYC subway, in order to provoke. I doubt Geller & Co are running it on the internets, where nothing shocks nobody.

        I see it now on their front page. Its placement is similar to the actual ad hovering above it: Red Barron Feast for One, in case anyone is interested, a 5 minute frozen pizza that is offensive in its own way. I pity those who cannot run down to the street corner for a slice…but I digress.

        If I am right, I demand that Mark eat 5 of them in a row while reading Atlas Shrugged from start to finish.

  4. I’m confused by the update: is this an ad on Volokh’s site, or is it a graphic used in the discussion of an ad? IE, is he taking money to display it, or just showing people what it is so as to discuss it?

    Because it seems like a perfectly fine first amendment discussion to be having, and all that, and I can understand how he might opine that the transit authority shouldn’t be discriminating on the basis of comment and shouldn’t ban the ad. And him showing us what the ad in in that context, is fine.

    On the other hand, if it’s just an ad that he’s approved on his site, that’s a bit different. If he’s taking money to display this message, a lot of the first amendment arguments about the transit authority wouldn’t apply, and it would be worth asking him to justify his decision to accept money to run this abhorrent ad. I’m sure he can come up with an argument, but he really ought to do so, not simply run this torrent of bile. He could for example do what the Nation magazine does, and have an ad policy that welcomes almost anything while frequently using the money from, for example, a full-page full-color ad for Fox News to pay to thoroughly denounce Fox News.

    1. I’m confused by the update: is this

      A) an ad on Volokh’s site…taking money to display it
      B) a graphic used in the discussion of an ad…showing people what it is so as to discuss it


      (5 Red Barrons and 1 Atlas Shrugged tax for you too, Warren)

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