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The Daily Tar Heel

Town responds to controversial bus ads

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A bus advertisement advocating for the end of United States military aid to Israel is back on Chapel Hill Transit buses.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misquoted Mariam Thompson as saying “I’m Jewish, and the ads certainly don’t speak for me.” Thompson did not say this, and she supports the bus ads.

More than 110 people attended the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting Wednesday to discuss a controversial ad that brought the town’s transit advertising policy into the spotlight.

The ad features a Palestinian man and an Israeli man holding their grandchildren with a message that reads, “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

The council received strong, but mixed input from students at the University, Triangle residents, the Jewish community and the Church of Reconciliation at the meeting.

The church sponsored the ad, which is currently on 98 out of 121 Chapel Hill Transit’s buses. It will run for the next year.

The ad was briefly removed because it did not contain the church’s contact information — required by the town for all political ads — but went back up earlier this month.

At the meeting, some members of the Jewish community asked for a complete removal of the ad, saying that it is offensive and disrupts the public image of the town.

“It’s not very comfortable for students like me to go on buses with these ads,” said UNC student Israel Abitbol. “The money that’s going to Israel saved my family more than three times in the past week.”

But Fritzi Ross, a Chapel Hill resident and member of Jews for a Just Peace, said bus riders are free not to look at the ad if they find it offensive.

“All day long, I hear people broadcasting untrue facts,” she said. “I can’t stop the speakers, so all I can do is to remove myself from the speech.”

Mike Ross, chairman of Voice for Israel — a local nonprofit that educates the public about issues in Israel — said he wants the town to protect freedom of speech, but buses are not the place to start.

“I’d acknowledge one benefit of the ad,” he said. “Jewish people felt very hurt by this, and this effort helped us to unify.”

Miriam Thompson, a Chapel Hill resident and Jewish mother, said she supported the ads because they encouraged a dialogue in the Chapel Hill community.

She said she hopes town officials will encourage the ongoing conversation.

“We shouldn’t revise the bus policy because of one advertisement,” she said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said there will be more community input meetings in the future.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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