Ad Courtesy: StandWithUs and Voice For Israel

CHAPEL HILL – The local group behind the new pro-Israel ad set to be featured in Chapel Hill Transit buses says the timing is right to respond to a separate and controversial ad last that debuted last year, calling for an end to U.S. military support for Israel.

Michael Ross, Chairman of Voice For Israel, says the new ad is a grassroots effort to advocate for Israel in the Triangle. The group collaborated with the international organization, StandWithUs, to produce the ad.

“This effort is a local one. It was instigated by us, and it was organized by us. The only thing was, frankly, we are a grassroots organization, and we don’t have the where with al to produce an ad that would be of a very professional nature,” Ross says.

Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos reviewed the ad and found that it complied with the Town’s guidelines, according to an email from Town Manager Roger Stancil. Ross says they are waiting for the contract with the Town to be finalized.

The ad posted last year, shown below, was paid for by the Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian church in Chapel Hill.

Courtesy: Church of Reconciliation

Courtesy: Church of Reconciliation

“It was percolating since the ads last year, and we just felt the time was right. It seemed to get a positive message out, and it seemed timely, given that negotiations are now going on,” Ross says.

Some Chapel Hillians opposed the 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.

“The ads that were put up on the buses last year promoted that Israel did not have the right to defend itself, and we were offended by that. Actually many people felt very hurt by it,” Ross says.

Adding to the controversy, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), a group unaffiliated with StandWithUs, expressed interest to place five ads on the outside of town buses. It stated: “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.

“I hope there will not be a negative reaction because I think that ad itself is very hopeful, and I don’t think it says anything at all that could be considered offensive to anybody,” Ross says.

He adds that, “We [Stand For Israel] don’t see the goals for Israel as incompatible with the goals for Palestinians. We wish them the best. We wish them to prosper and to live fulfilling lives and we think both sides can benefit from a peace.”