Going beyond a billboard

Deeper discussion is needed for understanding issues in the Middle East

The author, who moved to Chico from Chicago four years ago, teaches at Chico State’s College of Business. She is CEO of Northern California Adaptive Living Center Inc., which provides supportive living services to people with developmental disabilities in Butte and Mendocino counties.

The problem with billboard advertising is that it is not a substitute for valid give-and-take discussion. The billboard as sales tool is acceptable when the message is uncomplicated and when its image is placed in reasonable context. That is not the case with the sign on The Esplanade portraying a suffering child and a behest for immediate sanctions due to Israel’s role in the killing of children.

Not all Israelis are Jewish; not all Jewish people support everything the Israeli government does; but any serious student of post-Holocaust ethics will tell you that today most statements about Israelis mean “Jews.” Jewish people today—bound by history, yet as varied in their personal belief systems and opinions as anyone—still suffer the real consequences of blanket assumptions stated in societies that don’t really understand the Middle East cultures and their struggles. Anti-Semitism, anti-you-name-it, still exists in tangible form, as anyone who walks closely with others understands.

This is why the billboard is offensive to many. It boils down, really, to this: Some of our community members were hurt by language stated too simply on a board erected high for everyone to see. Believe what you wish, and share what you are convinced is true. Dialogue is preferable, but to any person of peace, it is essential. A context-encouraging discussion—what we might even call “community”—is called for when dealing with matters concerning the well-being of people and societies. Psychological battle tools don’t cut it. Thoughtful people don’t take them seriously, rendering them a waste of effort. The less-than-thoughtful may be spurred to quick assumptions, which virtually ensures our wars will go on forever.

Author/educator Parker Palmer reminds us, “It’s easy to be curious. It is difficult to love. But if we want a knowledge to rebind a broken world, we must reach for the deeper passion.” The level of passion that cares less about “Hear what I say from my high moral ground” and manifests more like “What can we do to fix the mess we humans have made, again?”

To paraphrase the poet Rumi: Beyond the ideas of what’s wrong and right, there is a field.

Unfortunately, there are few able to create fields upon which we can speak, listen and learn about people a world away, or for that matter, in our own community. Certainly there are few takers for the sort of activism Palmer describes, and we are, every one of us, poorer for it.