A poster promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace at an AC Transit bus stop in front of UC Berkeley’s Eshelman Hall has been repeatedly vandalized with anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas, authorities said.
The poster—part of the “Only in Israel” public awareness campaign launched by San Francisco-based BlueStarPR and sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation and Foundation of the Greater East Bay—has a picture of Israeli Arab soccer star Sowan Abbas calling for coexistence among communities. The poster also gives an example of a soccer team consisting of Jews and Arabs training together in the Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin.
Gabe Weiner, a campus coordinator for the Israel Peace Initiative and a former senator of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), said he first came across the defaced poster a couple of weeks ago.
Pictures taken by Weiner show that the last half of the line “Where in the Middle East Do Jews and Arabs Play Together?” was scratched out and replaced by “Where in the Middle East ‘DO YOU FIND ILLEGAL OCCUPATION’” in bold black letters all over Abbas’ picture.
“It was cleared up and right after that the second case happened,” Weiner said. “I was on my way to an ASUC meeting on Sept. 17 with a few friends and we were watching out for the poster. We didn’t see anything when we walked into the meeting, but when we left around 11 p.m. we saw it had the swastika equated with the Star of David on it. The words Jews and Israel were also crosed out. We were extremeley angry and upset.”
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau sent out an e-mail Monday to the campus community strongly condemning the vandalism.
“Although this hateful act of vandalism was not on campus property and may not have been perpetrated by our members, it is an act deeply hurtful to our Jewish students, and other members of the Jewish community who may have seen it, in this very busy student precinct,” he said.
A back-to-campus ad by Sears—located across from the BlueStarPR ad—was also tagged with swastikas equated with the Star of David.
Seven “Only in Israel” posters depicting advancements in solar technology and co-existence are displayed at several bus stops around UC Berkeley and can also be viewed at www.BlueStarpr.org, Pini Altman, deputy director of BlueStarPR, said.
“At the end of the day Israel is a very tolerant society,” he said.
“We want people to know that Israel is very progressive when it comes to things like gay rights, women and the environment. When people vilify or demonize Israel, the real facts get lost. If you use anti-Semitic images, you cross the line into racism.”
Riva Gambert, director of the Community Program of the Jewish Community Federation and Foundation of the Greater East Bay, said that although the organization was saddened by the defacing, it was encouraged by Birgeneau’s call for an open and honest dialogue.
“If you cross out the word Jew and put a swastika on a sign it’s pretty clear why people would do that,” said Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents the neighborhood. “To vandalize someone else’s sign is not free speech. The sad thing is to have had this sort of thing happen in previous years.”
A Jewish fraternity in Berkeley was vandalized several years ago and had the word “kike” and other anti-semitic slogans scrawled outside it, he said.
The Berkeley Hillel was also vandalized a couple of years ago.
“We do not accept this kind of behavior. I wonder if it was done to win the sympathy of the new students on campus,” Worthington said. “But most young people seem quite savvy about all this these days and I don’t think it will work.”
Worthington said Doug Hambleton, chief of the Berkeley Police Department, had asked his staff to investigate the incident as a hate crime and remain vigilant.
“We need to be alert and try to catch people in the act,” he said. “In previous years vandalism against a sign was followed up by assaults on people, which included insults about their race or religion. So I think we need to take this seriously.”
Officer Andrew Frankel, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department, urged anyone who had witnessed the vandalism to call the Bay Area Crime Stoppers hotline at (800) 222-8477.
“There are no suspects so far,” he said. “There are no witnesses either so there’s not a whole lot of investigative follow-up. But we offer a reward up to $2,000 to anyone who calls to leave a tip. They can give a name or remain anonymous.”
John Moghtader, an ASUC senator and president of Tikvah: Students for Israel, said he believed the vandalism had occurred while he was giving a speech rebutting a recent talk by Kifah Shah, an ASUC senator and organizing member of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
“She [Shah] was comparing the destruction of the oak grove at the Memorial Stadium with the uprooting of the Palestinians’ olive trees,” he said. “It was a factually incorrect portrayal of history so I made some remarks on the historical connection of Jewish people to the land of Israel.”
Shah told the Planet that she had merely quoted the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe who referred to the uprooting of the indigenous Palestinian population’s olive trees as “memoricide.”
“It wasn’t necessarily a speech about Palestine,” she said. “It was a speech about how the uprooting of the oak grove symbolized the ‘memoricide.’ The oak grove was a sacred burial ground for the Ohlones.”
Shah said that her organization had been unfairly targeted in the aftermath of the vandalism incident.
“Although we openly condemned what happened at the bus stop, someone wrote ‘SJP: Don’t f... with Jews on the campus anymore’ inside Dwinelle Hall,” she said. “It was really hurtful because we stand for a diverse group of people. We reached out to the Jewish students organizations on campus to work together on hate crime like this. Things are slowly getting polarized.”
Chancellor Birgeneau called for unity on campus in the wake of the incidents.
“As a university community that does not condone any acts of intolerance or hate, we must speak out against this anti-Semitic obscenity,” Birgeneau said in his e-mail. “Deplorable acts of hate are the antithesis of a university community. As a center of higher learning we must stand in opposition to such acts and strive to promote a climate of understanding and acceptance for all groups on campus.”
Jonathan Poullard, the university’s dean of students, sent a subsequent e-mail calling on students to create a safe campus environment.
Poullard said that in addition to last week’s vandalism, the campus had also witnessed racist speech in Cesar Chavez Student Center recently.
“Discourse, dialogue, discussion, disagreement and agreeing to disagree are all facets of what makes the principles of education real; however, hate, vandalism, intimidation, threats and violence have no place in our community,” he said. “It is our responsibility to make real our value of inclusion, our value of inquiry and our value of safety for all.”