Three pro-Israel messages are rotating through mid-February on an electronic billboard along Interstate 85 at the Spaghetti Junction interchange with I-285.
The messages, sponsored by the pro-Israel educational group StandWithUs, counter a Christmastime anti-Israel ad that appeared on the same billboard from If Americans Knew.
The anti-Israel billboard depicted Joseph and Mary barred from Bethlehem by Israel’s security barrier, sending the message that Israel keeps Christians out of the West Bank city.
But the barrier doesn’t surround Bethlehem, and Christians can easily travel to the Palestinian-controlled city through checkpoints from Israel, as a Harmony International group of about 80 people from the Atlanta area did in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Christians flock to Bethlehem each Christmas season to visit Manger Square and the Church of Nativity and provide a boost to the local economy. The Rev. Ike Reighard of Piedmont Church talked about spending hours in one of 200 olivewood workshops in the city and supporting craftsmen using equipment from the 1950s.
“Israel goes out of its way to make the border crossing accessible and to increase security during Christmas in the area,” said StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein, noting that only Israeli citizens, because of fears for their security, are barred from Bethlehem. “The real tragedy is that Islamic radicals have made it nearly impossible for Christians to live in Bethlehem by destroying homes, confiscating land, and threatening or even perpetrating physical violence against Christians.”
As one StandWithUs ad shows, the Christian population in Bethlehem has declined 93 percent since 1948, while the Christian population in Israel has increased 373 percent.
The second StandWithUs ad targets Hamas, says Israel needs a peace partner and directs people to sayyestopeace.org.
The third ad sends the message that Jews have lived in Israel for more than 3,000 years by juxtaposing ancient and modern coins featuring a menorah.
StandWithUs, a 13-year-old nonprofit group, has countered billboards from groups such as If Americans Knew around the United States and Canada since 2007, paying for messages in the same spots as the anti-Israel billboards.
StandWithUs is paying $5,000 for its first Atlanta-area billboard. The monthlong campaign started Jan. 12.
“Our message is clear,” Rothstein said. “Those who publicize lies and half-truths about Israel must understand that every time they do, we will be there to correct the facts and to inform the public.”