New Bus Ad; Courtesy: StandWithUs and Voice 4 Israel

CHAPEL HILL – The pro-Israel bus ad, a counter to a previous ad which called for an end to U.S. military aid for the country, is debuting Saturday and will be featured on the interior of 98 Chapel Hill Transit buses, according to the organizations behind the campaign.

Michael Ross, Chairman of the local group, a Voice For Israel, said it is a grassroots effort by the organization to advocate for Israel in the Triangle.

“We felt it is hurtful when our detractors imply that we are not for peace when we really envision a peace for both sides, for the benefit of both sides,” Ross said.

A Voice for Israel collaborated with the international organization, StandWithUs, to produce the ad which will run for one year at a cost $774 in total, the non-profit rate, according to StandWithUs.

The new ad is in response to a different ad that was paid for by the Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian church in Chapel Hill.

Courtesy: Church of Reconciliation

Courtesy: Church of Reconciliation

It also had a one-year run that will finish at the end of this month.

“But we just felt that the other ad [the Church of Reconciliation’s Ad] misconstrued to the story of the Middle East and we wanted to get our side of it out,” Ross said.

Calls to the Church of Reconciliation have not been returned.

Some Chapel Hillians opposed the Church of Reconciliation’s ad, saying it was offensive, while others said it was free expression as part of the First Amendment. The ads were taken down 10 days after being posted because they did not include the church’s contact information. The ads were then rewritten to list the required information and posted again.

Adding to the controversy, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a group unaffiliated with StandWithUs, expressed interest in placing five ads on the outside of town buses, which would read: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man, Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Pam Geller, the Executive Director of AFDI, successfully sued to have the ad run in other cities and threatened similar action against Chapel Hill.

This prompted the Town Council to review its bus advertising policy. After several meetings and a public hearing, the Council voted to continue a policy of allowing bus ads with most religious and political views, as long as the subject matter was not offensive. This raised questions about how the Town would objectively determine if any ads were offensive. The council also voted to require clearly visible disclaimers on each bus that the Town did not support the expressed opinions.

Ross said since the new ad’s design went public earlier this month, he hasn’t received any negative feedback.

“The ads are hopeful, they are not in any way dismissive of anyone else, and we haven’t received any criticism about the ads themselves.”

The ad was approved by Town attorney Ralph Karpinos and found to be in compliance with Chapel Hill’s guidelines.