November 7, 2003

Students React to One Truth Ads

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A series of pro-Israel advertisements for the website has caused controversy at college newspapers nationwide. The ads have been condemned by various student groups for alleged racism and have brought up issues of free speech and the nature of campus debate.

The leaders of the largest Jewish and Muslim student groups at Cornell said yesterday that the ads, which have also appeared in The Sun, undermine the cooperative relationship between their organizations.

Yusif Akhund ’04, president of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, and Matt Jossen ’04, president of the Jewish Student Union, have condemned the advertisements.

According to Akhund, Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Cornell Hillel, came to MECA’s daily dinner yesterday to express that he was offended by the ads and to say that Cornell Hillel did not condone or support them.

“One thing about the Jewish community,” said the person behind the ads, Marcella Rosen, “is that it does not speak with one voice.”

Rosen, director of the One Truth Foundation, which paid for the ads, said that her organization is a reaction to “a verbal attack on Israel that we had witnessed across college campuses.”

The ads seek “to make students think about the question and come to their own conclusion,” according to Rosen, and have been successful in drawing 70,000 people to the website.

One example, a half-page ad which ran in The Sun yesterday, reads: “The effect of Abed A-Basat Uda’s March 27th suicide attack on his Israeli victims: 29 civilians murdered, 140 wounded, 20 seriously wounded” on a black background juxtaposed side-by-side with “The effect of Abed A-Basat Uda’s March 27th suicide attack on his Palestinian family: $25,000 in cash, furnished apartment, pension for life, celebrity status” on a white background.

Two Sides to This Story

Particularly disturbing to Akhund was the slogan at the bottom of every ad: “There are two sides to every story, but only one truth.”

“The statement is very narrow-minded,” he said. “There never only is one unbiased truth.”

Rosen disagrees. A successful businessperson who said this is “the first political thing I’ve ever been involved in,” she points out the April 2002 Jenin massacre when Israeli troops allegedly killed dozens of Palestinian civilians. But a massacre never occurred, according to both Rosen and the official United Nations report on the incident. And yet, many people have a misconception about the events, she says.

“One hundred percent heard [about the massacre],” Rosen said. “Twenty-five percent heard about the U.N. report. That’s just one example. On many campuses, there were really very many lies told. … We felt it was important to present another side. Nobody was standing up and saying ‘That’s a lie.’ … There are historical facts that are not questions for relativism or one side or the other.”

“There are issues in this conflict where it’s much more complicated,” she added, mentioning Israeli settlements. But when it comes to teaching children to hate, she said, “They do, we don’t.”

Still, Rosen acknowledges of the ads’ slogan, “If you took out that line, the ads would still work.”

Nationwide Reaction

Across the country, campus papers including the Stanford Daily, the Michigan Daily and the Yale Daily News have run the ads and witnessed public upset voiced through letters to the editor, protests and calls for the resignation of those responsible for printing them.

At the Yale Daily News, publisher Christian Schaub made the decision to print ads by One Truth. After today, five of nine paid ads will have run.

“We have received a number of letters regarding our decision. However, there hasn’t been any sort of on-campus protest yet,” Schaub said.

One of the ads, “Heroes,” generated the most controversy at Yale and elsewhere.

The split-screen ad shows an “Israeli school children’s hero,” an athlete juxtaposed side-by-side with a “Palestinian school children’s hero,” a suicide bomber. On the photo of the suicide bomber, the ad cites two public opinion polls showing that 68 percent of Palestinians approved of suicide bombing in June 2002 and that 79 percent of young Palestinians wanted to be martyrs in January 2003.

“It has gotten some flak,” Rosen said. “First, we never said all Palestinians or all Israelis. But do most Americans love Michael Jordan? Yes. The Palestinians educate their children to hate. … The ad is legitimate and describes the education to hate. … Everything we say is documented by other sources. It’s a bad reality, but it’s true.”

Rosen said that the image of the suicide bomber was taken from a poster circulated in Palestinian cities after the suicide bomber’s attack.

“We didn’t invent that; we didn’t invent that poster,” she said, adding that 10,000 to 20,000 posters of a suicide bomber are circulated after attacks and that Palestinian schools are named after suicide bombers.

“I’m not a liar nor have I ever been,” Rosen added.

The Sun and the Stanford Daily decided not to run that particular ad. After printing the “Heroes” ad once, the Michigan Daily decided not to run it again.

“I did not find that it was racist,” Schaub said. “Yes, it is a generalization, yet with the [poll data] that they are taking I felt that was the major comparison in it. They are presenting some interesting survey results. … The [other ads] I do not find nearly as objectionable.”

“It does get the message across. This was something that was designed to be controversial,” Schaub said. “There’s a lot of leeway.”

Schaub said that ads representing opposite viewpoints would be welcome and that the paper routinely publishes ads containing messages that the editors and publisher do not hold.

Rosen said that many campus papers have chosen to run the One Truth ads, and at some campuses, there has been an instant reaction of sit-ins, letter writing and protests. According to Rosen, a sit-in at the campus newspaper at Rutgers University caused the editor-in-chief to cancel the advertising contract.

“People don’t like people mad at them,” she said.

Approach Divergence

The Jewish Student Union was notified earlier this semester that the One Truth Foundation was planning an ad campaign, according to Jossen. But when the JSU asked for more information about the specific content of the ads, Jossen said that they never heard back from the foundation.

“It seems very difficult to figure out who’s running all this stuff,” Jossen said. “We don’t know where their funding is coming from. … The elusiveness has made it more difficult to deal with.”

Rosen said that the One Truth Foundation includes about 100 supporters from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. She did not disclose how much money the foundation has spent on its advertising campaign.

Jossen said that an outside group cannot appreciate or understand the “friendly and open dialogue” between Jewish and Muslim students at Cornell.

“[The ads] end up causing controversy where there was none before,” Jossen said. “The relationship between Cornell’s different cultural groups is uniquely friendly and open to dialogue. We are able to work out our differences peacefully.”

“It’s nice that things are good at Cornell,” Rosen said. “On the other hand, a lot of outrageous lies have been spread against Israel [in general],” she added. Later, she said that “we have a different objective
than [Jossen] and I’m sorry he’s not pleased.”

Rosen said her group has a long-range aim to shape the debate about the Middle East conflict.

“One of the ways to get rid of a practice — whether it is genital mutilation in Africa or even slavery in the United States way back when or suicide bombing — is to expose it and air it,” she said.

Jossen has more urgent tasks on his mind, and points to next Tuesday’s Culture Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Memorial Room of the Straight, as an event sponsored by the JSU that showcases cross-cultural cooperation at Cornell.

The first ad in The Sun ran on Oct. 21. The Sun’s contract with the One Truth Foundation runs through the end of the semester.

Archived article by Peter Norlander