Chapel Hill to review policy after ads were pulled from buses

Chapel Hill to review policy after ad against aid to Israel is pulled

mschultz@newsobserver.comAugust 28, 2012 

The ad that Chapel Hill removed from its buses.

TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL

— Town leaders will discuss their policy for bus advertising after an ad calling for an end of U.S. military aid to Israel drew complaints.

The ad, which appeared inside nearly 100 buses for about 10 days this month, read: “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

The Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian USA church of about 350 people in Chapel Hill, paid for the ads, and the ads said so. The town removed them last week but says it did so because the ads did not list the church’s contact information. The town requires that for ads of a political or religious nature.

Pastor Mark Davidson said Tuesday the ads were approved unanimously by the church’s 12 elders. They cost $1,500 to print, and it will cost about $1,200 to run them on the town’s 98 buses for a year, he said.

The United States gives Israel $3.1 billion annually in military aid, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The ads, part of a national campaign, caught the attention of the church’s Salaam Shalom group, whose name means peace in Arabic and Hebrew.

They show two grandfathers holding their grandchildren: Salim Shawamreh, a Palestinian, has had his home on the West Bank bulldozed five times; Jeff Halper is a member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

“We like the fact that these are real people,” Davidson said. “We didn’t want to engage in anything that was disrespectful or offensive, but we also wanted something that would get people thinking.”

At least one Town Council member doesn’t think the ads belong on the buses.

“Being the only Jewish person on the council, I can tell you that Israel is a very emotional, complicated issue to discuss,” council member Penny Rich said in an email.

“I publicly do not take a stand on Israel. However, I do think we as a town have to understand the strong bond Jewish people have with Israel,” she continued. “We need to extend our respect by not accepting political ads that will offend our Jewish citizens.”

The town received five complaints about the ads, Town Manager Roger Stancil said.

Dan May wrote the town to complain the ads appeared to violate Chapel Hill Transit’s “viewpoint-neutral” restrictions.

According to a copy of the policy, the town will not accept: false, misleading, deceptive or disrespectful ads; ads that imply the town endorses their message; and ads that are obscene.

“It just seems to me that the CHT is shooting itself in the foot creating the type of environment where captive riders are forced to view and endure such divisive and emotionally charged material,” May wrote. “I ride the bus every day to my job downtown, and have begun seeing the ad daily. It has NOT enhanced my ridership experience.”

Stancil said the town looked at other policies and saw most systems either reject political and religious ads or require “paid for by” disclaimers with phone, email or other contact information.

Raleigh does not accept ads that support or oppose candidates, issues or causes or that advocate or oppose religions or religious beliefs, said Jayne Kirkpatrick, director of public affairs.

In an email, Chapel Hill Town Council member Jim Ward said the town wanted to balance First Amendment rights while “maintaining a positive/neutral ambiance on and about our buses and transit system.”

In a letter to the church, Stancil said the town can repost the ads if they are printed with a full disclaimer.

Davidson said they’ll do that.

“Chapel Hill needs to be the kind of place that can have a strong, robust discussion of the issues of the day,” he said. “We don’t need a sterile public square.”

The church hopes to have the ads back up this weekend.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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