UPDATED 5/3 12:00 pm
Brandeis Hillel commissioned a group called Artists 4 Israel to paint a cube that would sit on the Great Lawn all week to commemorate “Israel Week.” The artists painted three sides of the block on Tuesday, leaving one blank with the intention of letting students paint on the empty canvas, according to Sydney Brenner, the IACT Coordinator for Israel Engagement at Brandeis Hillel. The next day, however, Hillel staff were informed that the words “Free Palestine” were painted over the side of the block that read “Israel.”
Brandeis Hillel flipped the canvas and Jackie Zenou ’19, former member of Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC)’s board and a member of Brandeis Hillel, painted over the graffiti with different “peace messages” including “Coexist,” at roughly 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. She also had other people write words like “Shalom” and “Salam,” meaning peace in Hebrew and Arabic respectively, according to Zenou. On Wednesday evening, IfNotNow, a group that is trying to “end American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians,” according to their Facebook page, put a cardboard sign that read “Stop lying to young Jews #FreePalestine” over the newly repainted side.
Artists 4 Israel is known for going to college campuses and creating artwork that is pro-peace and pro-Israel, according to Brenner. They painted the block during the event hosted by Brandeis Hillel from 12 to 4 p.m. The cube was meant to be a centerpiece for the Israel block party the next day, hosted by BIPAC. Isaac Graber ’19, president of BIPAC, said that he was informed around 9 a.m. on Wednesday that someone had used their own paint to paint over the artwork after the event had ended.
“I believe that whoever wrote it probably wanted the Palestinian perspective to be heard, but I don’t think they did it in the right way,” said Graber. “I don’t think it would’ve been appropriate for anyone to write anything on it. The issue was that it was after the event had ended and that it was vandalism.”
Brandeis’ chapter of IfNotNow said that they “see the Israel Week art installation on the Great Lawn as a beacon of propaganda and an embodiment of blatant nationalism,” and that “the display of Brandeis branding in conjunction with glorified nationalistic art is a misrepresentation of the Brandeis student body.”
Ari Albertson ’22, member of IfNotNow, said that “IfNotNow has no knowledge or connection with the original, spray-painted #FreePalestine,” in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. In an official statement, IfNotNow said that they did want to contribute to the subsequent conversation around the art. “We feel as though the choice to cover the message of Palestinian solidarity without addressing the legitimate concerns of the sentiment was irresponsible. As a university committed to social justice, we should be promoting dialogue, not suppressing it,” said the club on Wednesday evening.
“There was a fourth side, so if [the graffiti] had been on that fourth side, it would have been respectful and in line with what we’re trying to do here. The fact that someone wrote on the artwork, one message over another rather than side by side, didn’t allow for any dialogue,” said Zenou. “Hopefully, in the future, we can have peaceful dialogue.”
On Thursday evening, Brandeis Hillel student board released an official statement saying, “Hillel is committed to creating spaces that engage with not just the culture but the politics of Israel and the violence and trauma that have shaped the last 71 years of Israeli life.”
“All are invited to these spaces,” said the statement. It continued, “We wish that those who defaced the exhibition in the Great Lawn—the first time or the second time—had decided to contribute to the project rather than vandalize it. The choice they made caused real hurt to members of our community whom we are proud to serve.”
Israel Week is an annual event that commemorates Israel’s independence day and took place April 29 to May 3 this year. Its events have included a “block party” on the Great Lawn, coffee samples from an Israeli coffee chain, a discussion about Israeli history and its contemporary role and display of the painted block outside of the SCC all week.
The final event of Israel week is “Hummus and Debrief,” hosted by J Street and B View. It will take place in the Alumni lounge from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the event will be centralized around not only learning about the historical and cultural connections to Palestinian and Israeli foods but also discussing the Artists 4 Israel cube, according to Brandeis Hillel’s website. The website said that “all opinions and backgrounds are welcome.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that “IfNotNow said that they did not agree with original vandalism” and was corrected.