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05-18-09, 07:22 PM #1
Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers get together to talk about Muslims, perhaps even secret ones.
William Ayers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. headline Mideast peace rally
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright and Dr. William Ayers are greeted by Rebekah Levin with the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune / May 17, 2009)
The day before President Barack Obama was to meet with Israel's prime minister, community activists, clergy and residents marched through Oak Park on Sunday to call for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And they were led in their efforts by a politically provocative pair from Chicago: Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and William Ayers.
The two men shared the stage for one of the first times at First United Church of Oak Park during a forum before the annual walk.
They urged a rethinking of the Mideast conflict, a shift in perspective that's not unlike the view espoused by Obama.
When he was running for the presidency, Obama was dogged by the two figures: Wright, Obama's former pastor, with his fiery words from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ, and Ayers, for his radical past as a leader in the 1960s and 1970s of the violent Weather Underground group and work with Obama on school-reform issues.
Organizers with the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine said the two men, along with a Jewish activist and an Arab attorney, were invited for their work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not their political notoriety. They did, though, draw a crowd of more than 400 that filled the church.
"We can't be squelching viewpoints because they are unpopular or because someone has a reputation through Fox News," said Caren Levy Van Slyke, a spokeswoman with the group.
Wright drew parallels between Trinity's part in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the current campaign to bring about peace in the Mideast.
He recalled a small "free South Africa" sign that was erected outside the South Side congregation. Years later, a visiting politician who was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela thanked Trinity for its efforts that he and other political prisoners had heard about while in prison.
"I have faith that within your lifetime two citizens from the states of Israel and Palestine ... will be here in Oak Park saying to you, 'We heard of people in Chicago ... who did all they could to bring about a just peace,' " Wright said.
The remarks earned Wright a standing ovation and a handshake from Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who spoke of the need to create a curriculum of questioning that reveals a "reality that is always messier, always more complicated."
The Israeli government has said the Palestinians -- particularly the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip -- must make more of an effort to end all attacks and show their commitment to peace.
Ayers and Wright both paused to reflect with humor.
Ayers recalled feeling "support and solidarity" with Wright when he became a lightning rod during the presidential contest. Though he blasted the guilt by association, Ayers also poked fun at the "terrorist" label assigned to him and that of a "fiery preacher" given to Wright.
Wright likened some of the controversies and figures of the anti-apartheid struggle as being "almost as toxic as Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright are in the age of Obama."
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