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Chapel Hill pulls transit advertisement


An anti-Israel ad on the Chapel Hill Transit buses that was purchased by Chapel Hill’s Church of Reconciliation was removed.

An advertisement in Chapel Hill Transit buses calling for an end to U.S. occupation in Israel has been temporarily removed — but not before drawing criticism from several concerned residents.

Chapel Hill Transit removed the ad because it failed to list a contact for Chapel Hill’s Church of Reconciliation, which purchased the ad.

The ad featured two men, one Palestinian and one Israeli, both holding their grandchildren, with a tagline that read, “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Rev. Mark Davidson, the church’s pastor, said he expects the ad to be back up in buses by Tuesday.

In a letter to the church, Town Manager Roger Stancil said the ad could be reposted if the church reprints it with a proper disclaimer.

Regulations set by the council in July 2011 allow political, religious and issue-based ads, but only with a disclaimer saying who purchased the ad and how to contact the purchaser.

The ad first appeared Aug. 13 on 98 of Chapel Hill Transit’s 121 buses and was meant to run for one year.

The town has received five complaints about the ad’s content since it first appeared.

Chapel Hill resident Dan May sent an email to the Chapel Hill Town Council Aug. 14 voicing his concern about having political advertisements in town buses.

“I have a problem with CHT using the inside of the public buses for promoting such potentially offensive and partisan material,” May said in an email to the council.

“We should not have to be offended by controversial material posted on the inside of the bus while riding to work.”

May declined an interview.

Councilwoman Penny Rich, who is the only Jewish member of the council, said she thinks the ad might be offensive to some Jewish people.

“Israel is a very emotional issue, maybe not so much for non-Jewish people but definitely for Jewish people,” she said.

The ad included contact information for the national campaign, but not the Church of Reconciliation.

The ad is part of the “Be On Our Side” national campaign, which argues foreign aid to Israel is perpetuating the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Davidson said the ad is also sponsored by the Coalition for Peace With Justice and the Eisenhower Chapter of Veterans for Peace, two local organizations.

He said many people in his congregation are passionate about the issue.

“It’s been on our hearts and minds for many years,” he said. “We hope it will be a catalyst for discussion.”

Steve Spade, director of the Chapel Hill Transit department, said it is not unusual to get complaints about ads.

“Every once in a while you’ll get an ad that will generate a comment,” he said. “Usually, if something attracts one comment, it attracts multiple.”

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Because of the complaints the ad drew, the council could discuss changing their advertisement policy when it reconvenes in September.

In an email sent to council members, Stancil said the town could consider a policy that prohibits political speech and allows only commercial advertisements.

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