Last month, the Presbyterian church that formed in support of the civil rights movement and since has taken controversial stands on a number of issues in the name of peace and unity put up ad posters in Chapel Hill buses with the tag line “End U.S. Military Aid to Israel.”
A handful of people in town let council members know how deeply offended they were by the message. The town pulled the ad because the posters listed the website address of a national peace-in-the-Mideast organization instead of contact information for Church of Rec, a violation of the town’s policy. Church of Rec said it intends to add the required contact information and put the ads back up. The church has a contract with the town to run the ads for a year.
The poster downplayed the politics and focused on peace. It pictured a Palestinian man and his grandson and an American grandfather and grandson under the heading “Join with us.” It did not depict any of the carnage the Israelis and Palestinians have wrought on each other.
Yet the message stung some to a depth I can’t understand, and out of that, I hope will come a dialogue, some edification for those of us who see the Israeli/Palestinian fight as a conflict that needs a truce. Not that I’m advocating for a bus-ad war, but silencing those who posit a different viewpoint doesn’t seem to be the answer.
One thing is apparent: The town needs to have clear parameters about what it will and will not display in taxpayer-sponsored buses. Could Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan put up an ad: “Join us. Stop Medicaid and Medicare insurance to the elderly and poor” or “Join us. Stop undocumented workers from picking our produce”? Would the town allow those, regardless of whom they offended, as long as the posters listed Mitt’s office phone number?
I don’t know that bus ads are where we want dialogue about important issues to play out. But Church of Rec succeeded in one of its aims: It got people talking.
– Nancy Oates