West Haven I-95 billboard on USS Liberty is anti-Israel, critics charge – James Walker/New Haven Register
WEST HAVEN – A billboard on Interstate 95 is sparking outrage from a local lawyer and criticism from the Anti-Defamation League for what they say is its anti-Israel message.
But the veterans organization and its supporters that sponsored the billboard say it depicts one of the most controversial mysteries in U.S. Navy history and they are still demanding answers.
The message on the billboard, in capital letters, reads: “Help the USS Liberty Survivors.” Underneath, in smaller letters, also all capped, the message continues: “Attacked by Israel.” The red, white and blue colors of the American flag are faded and serve as the background of the large sign. The billboard depicts a ship on one side and a wounded sailor on the other. The bottom of the billboard lists the website www.honorlibertyvets.org.
What is driving the controversy is an incident that occurred on June 8, 1967, during the Six Day War. Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty, an American intelligence-gathering ship, while it was on a surveillance mission in international waters off the shores of El Arish in the Sinai Peninsula. Thirty-four Americans died, 171 were injured and the ship sustained heavy damage. Israel claimed it mistook the Liberty for an enemy vessel.
On June 8, 2007, the National Security Agency finalized the review of all materials relative to the attack. Investigations by the United States and Israel determined that though a horrifying tragedy, the attack was an accident and a case of mistaken identity.
But many veterans, including retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and Capt. Ward Boston, a former Navy attorney who helped lead the military investigation, believe the attack was deliberate, according to the USS Liberty website. Boston signed an affidavit stating former President Lyndon Johnson and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara ordered that the inquiry conclude the incident was an accident. Moorer calls it “one of the classic all-American cover-ups.”
So, the controversy continues.
Max Buxbaum, an attorney who lives and works in New York but grew up in New Haven and has a home in East Haven, says he did a double-take as he drove up I-95 Wednesday evening and spotted the billboard.
The sign is located between exits 40 and 41 on the southbound side of the highway but is only visible to motorists from the northbound side.
“Inoffensive to southbound drivers but highly offensive to northbound drivers,” Buxbaum said.
In an email, Buxbaum said he was shocked when he saw the billboard.
“It’s one of those conspiracy theories that are kept alive by the same sort of people who say that Jews are responsible for everything from Pearl Harbor to 9/11,” he wrote. “Considering that my father’s entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust, it was particularly troubling to me on a personal level.”
He believes Alison Weir, founder of “If Americans Knew,” is one of the people behind it. Weir is a journalist who says her website “analyzes media coverage of Israel-Palestine” and “provides information on topics that are substantially misreported or unreported in the US media.”
Weir acknowledges her allegiance to the veterans group and said “there really is no doubt about it whatsoever” that the attack on the Liberty was deliberate.
“There is a great deal of evidence that Israel was very well aware it was attacking a U.S. ship,” she said.
Weir said there is nothing anti-Semitic about the message on the billboard; rather it is a group of veterans — which includes Jewish servicemen who were on the ship at the time of the attack or their families — who continue to believe what really happened was covered up and they were “treated badly by the government, Israel and the media.”
“Anytime you say anything that isn’t positive about Israel, you’re labeled anti-Semitic,” she said. “What about the Jewish sailors who are part of this? Are they anti-Semitic, too? I’m not young and I have a life’s history of opposing bigotry. All people are worthy of respect and dignity.”
But Steve Ginsburg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League-Connecticut, said that while the words themselves are not anti-Semitic, “the misleading ad targets Israel and that can have an anti-Semitic impact.”
“It is clearly anti-Semitic in its conspiracy theory (against Israel) that has been proven wrong,” he said. “They have chosen not to believe it.”
Bruce Barrett, co-owner of Barrett Outdoor Communications Inc., which owns the billboard, said he received one phone call about the billboard and immediately had his sales staff check it out and personally went to the USS Liberty website and clicked through the links to determine whether there was hateful language against Israel by the group or its supporters.
“I found nothing that appears to be anti-Semitic,” he said. “My sales staff checked and determined there was no hate speech.”
Barrett said his company would never condone putting up a billboard that contained hateful language, but he is a huge proponent of freedom of speech.
“People have a right to challenge historical events,” he said. “They should have a right to say that.”
In May 1968, the Israeli government paid $3,323,500 in compensation to the families of the 34 men killed in the attack. In March 1969, Israel paid a further $3,566,457 to the men who had been wounded. On Dec. 18, 1980, it agreed to pay $6 million as settlement for the final U.S. bill of $17,132,709 for material damage to the Liberty herself.
Author: James walker, on Twitter: @thelieonroars.