Chapel Hill Transit to debut new Mideast peace ad

tgrubb@newsobserver.comAugust 5, 2013 

Triangle advocacy group Voice 4 Israel and a Los Angeles-based group Stand With Us are paying to put this advertisement on Chapel Hill Transit buses for the next year. The ads could be posted by September to replace a controversial ad that the Church of Reconciliation paid to post in August 2012. The new ad's sponsors hope it will be a "more conducive" approach to talking about Israeli-Palestinian peace.

TAMMY GRUBB — tgrubb@newsobserver.com

— As one advertisement about Israeli-Palestinian peace comes down, another is poised to go up inside 98 Chapel Hill Transit buses next month.

The ad contract with Stand With Us and Voice 4 Israel, two pro-Israel education and advocacy groups, is in negotiations, said Brian Litchfield, the interim transit director.

The ad reads: “Imagine Peace in a Middle East where Israel and her neighbors share technology and resources to create a future of peace and prosperity for generations to come. The possibilities are endless. Israel seeks a Partner for Peace.”

Transit staff conferred with Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos and found the ad met the town’s standards. It could run for a year, at an estimated cost of $1,500.

“The advertising policy permits religious, political and social issue ads but restricts ads deemed false, misleading, deceptive or disrespectful. We reviewed the ad for its artwork and message. We do not review the organizations or their motivations behind the ads,” town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said.

The policy also requires prominently-posted disclaimers that Chapel Hill Transit does not endorse advertised views. Litchfield said those disclaimers were posted, but staff is making sure none have fallen down or been stolen.

Mike Ross, president of the local grassroots Voice 4 Israel, said the ad sends a positive message that peace benefits both Israelis living with the threat of violence and Palestinians who also “deserve to live fulfilling lives.”

It also “gives a boost to our own pro-Israel community,” Ross said. The group reached out to Los Angeles-based Stand with Us for its experience crafting similar campaigns, he said.

“We want the local community to understand that Israel does want peace. We felt the underlying message of the other ad was Israel doesn’t deserve to defend itself and protect itself. It was hurtful,” he said.

The Salaam-Shalom Committee from Chapel Hill’s Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian church, launched last year’s controversial ad campaign calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. Chairwoman Sharon Shohfi said the ad was meant to initiate a community conversation. It was part of a national campaign sponsored by the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, based in Illinois.

That ad shows Palestinian and Israeli grandfathers holding their grandchildren, and reads: “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. Military aid to Israel.”

The Church of Reconciliation paid $774 to run the ad on 98 buses for a year, sparking a public outcry and months of heated debate. In October, town officials discovered the ad had been approved under an outdated policy, and the Town Council voted to suspend all ads not already under contract. The council approved the current policy Dec. 3.

The debate also caught the attention of New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, which submitted an opposing ad: “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Karpinos said town staff sent AFDI executive director Pamela Geller a copy of the revised guidelines for review, but she did not complete the town’s submission process.

Shohfi said she and her husband lived for a year with an Israeli group in West Jerusalem and saw what life is like for both peoples. They share the same country, but Palestinians do not share the same freedom of movement, quality of life or access to work, school and necessities, she said. Even as the current peace talks get underway, Israelis are preparing to build more houses in the Palestinian-occupied areas, she said.

“(Palestinians) live in a prison, because access by air, land and sea is controlled by Israel, and permission is rarely granted,” she said.

U.S. military aid allows Israel to pursue its goals unfettered, she said.

“There is no ‘sides.’ We are both calling for peace,” she said. “But we want justice for everyone.”

Several speakers in last year’s debate suggested having a community dialogue to work through the different views. Shohfi said more than 200 people attended a public discussion in April at UNC’s Global Exchange Center. The event was co-sponsored by the UNC Students for Justice in Palestine and the Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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