Monday, December 20, 2010

Propaganda on wheels? The "war crimes" bus ads

I haven't blogged in more than three months. I've been using Facebook to convey most of my opinions on local and global happenings, and since the fall was packed with GRE prep, classes, and another contract gig for the Times, I seriously de-prioritized blogging. Still, I missed it. I missed writing in brief or at length about things that mattered to me. I missed getting the occasional response from a reader in New Zealand or Vermont or Patagonia. And since the cinematic year is drawing to a close, and I always make sure to write about my top 10 films of the year, I'll make sure 2010 is no exception. (Expect that post in early January; I still have to catch up on Winter's Bone, The Ghost Writer, and other critical darlings.)

In the meantime, I'll say that the growing Facebook campaign to remove a series of bus ads that accuse Israel of war crimes is getting my goat. It reminds me of the controversy surrounding the Seattle Rep's 2007 production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a one-woman show that presented the Israel-Palestine conflict from the perspective of a young woman who spent a lot more time with the Palestinians than with the Israelis, and who died after being run over by an Israeli bulldozer.

The Jewish community's argument against the show was that it offered a one-sided view of the Mideast conflict, and that the Rep's discussion panel included only liberal Jews. While it can certainly be argued that the play isn't an even-handed overview of Palestinian and Israeli concerns, the next step for outraged local Jews should have been to make statements, in whatever media they deemed appropriate, that reflected the pro-peace aspects of Israeli society and government. To an extent, they did just that. Aren't such actions protest enough?

Looking back, I think Rep artistic director David Esbjornson erred in claiming that the ADL's and Federation's program ads were an attempt to "discredit" the show. I also think Jewish leaders shouldn't have assumed that they would be afforded program space rather than having to purchase ads to air their views. As I've indicated on Facebook, in response to a group that intends to "stop" the bus ads, I think the Jewish community does itself a disservice when it pushes for censorship -- the outright removal of views it doesn't like -- rather than figuring out how best to answer the offending messages.

A little pro-Israel advertising might go a long way towards making people think; throwing around the word "libel" makes us look reactionary and defensive. And protected speech is protected speech. The bus ads qualify, and if that makes some local Jews uncomfortable, well, that's the price of free speech. The people who so despise those bus ads should come up with a little free speech of their own and, if need be, cover a few city buses with it. Couldn't hurt.

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