All students at Brandeis know that the student body is a political one. We love to talk national politics. We love to talk about the issues that are most relevant to us. Most importantly, we all have our differing opinions, and we should be accepting and constructive about this. Unfortunately, some of us are not.
Over the last few years, there has been a string of politically charged vandalisms of installations that were interpreted as or were political in nature. Why were they vandalized, you ask? Because the vandals disagreed with the perceived messages and were driven to remove them rather than to discuss them.
Last year, a 9/11 memorial of 3,000 American flags planted in the ground that had been set up on the Great Lawn outside of the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) had been re-arranged to spell out the phrase “PROUD OF IRAQ?” The installation had been done on reserved space with private property in an apolitical fashion—by members of Brandeis Democrats and Brandeis Conservatives alike—and was changed to express a political position.
I wrote about the incident a few days later, labelling the act vandalism and calling it an inappropriate way to express politics. I said that “we need to make sure that free speech is available for everyone on campus so that students do not feel as if vandalism and other similar acts are necessary to get their opinions across.” My point was that we need to accept that people don’t always agree with each other on their opinions, but we should not violate someone else’s freedom of expression to do so instead of building constructive dialogue.
The perpetrator responded anonymously and defended their act a week later. This was the kind of dialogue I hoped would happen. The memorial defacement story ended there, but the politically charged vandalism did not.
Fewer than 10 days into this semester, a poster in support of Hillary Clinton was ripped off of my door in the Village and torn to shreds. I was distraught. I had the same poster mounted in the exact same spot on my door last year. I even lived in the same building. Why was it torn down? Someone who happened across it disagreed with it. For that reason, my freedom of expression was in that instance torn to shreds. Is this how the expression of politics at Brandeis works? Someone disagrees with somebody else and therefore their poster needs to be vandalized?
And it continues. A close friend of mine and columnist for The Brandeis Hoot, José Castellanos ’18 recently had a sticker completely removed off of his car parked on campus. What did the sticker say? “Vote Democratic: We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.” It’s a sharp slogan, but it’s certainly not worth removing from someone’s car without their permission. That amounts to vandalism. Asked about the sticker removal, Castellanos said, “While I understand the frustrations that some people may have with the Democratic party and the two-party system in general, that in no way warrants the defacing of someone’s private property. Doing this is an act of immaturity that in no way promotes a sensible dialogue.”
The key word here is “dialogue”; those who vandalize others’ political or politically-interpreted installations are not looking to build dialogue. Doing so is akin to saying that the political message being removed and/or destroyed is not worthy of being said.
According an an article written by Editor-at-Large Emily Sorkin Smith ’18 to The Brandeis Hoot published on April 1, 2016, a banner for last semester’s Israeli Apartheid Week hung by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP) had been taken down multiple times, at one point being found on a shuttle bus to Boston/Cambridge. No matter what your stance on the matter is, denying the right of a student group to say what they want to say is tantamount to saying that they do not matter.
Sadly, the trend continued into yesterday.
On Oct. 13, an installation in the road beyond the SCC leading up campus promoting J Street U Brandeis’ “Havdallah Against Demolition” event, during which the organization is hoping to advocate against the demolition of Susya.
“Susya is a Palestinian village in Area C of the west bank. Area C is completely militarily and civically controlled by Israel. It is currently under threat of demolition to make way for a neighboring settlement also called Susya,” said Sivan Ben-Hayun ’19, membership coordinator for J Street U Brandeis. The aim is to “put pressures on the American Jewish community and the Israeli government” to save the village before the demolition decision date, previously postponed by that government, now set for Nov. 15.
Yesterday afternoon, the poster that had been planted in the ground promoting the event had been vandalized. The sign, which had been stuck in the ground, had been thrown down to the ground, its supports snapped.
According to Ben-Hayun, who helped to set up the installation, “it is clear that [the perpetrator] was somebody who was against the idea of Susya existing, against the idea, or against what we’re doing essentially.”
Here I’ll restate my questions. Is this how the expression of politics at Brandeis works? Someone disagrees with somebody else and therefore their poster needs to be vandalized? It’s utterly ridiculous that this is how some of us choose to express disagreement.
Ben-Hayun expressed a similar frustration with the situation in a Facebook post earlier in the day. She wrote: “I am so unbelievably disappointed in the Brandeis community right now. A sign marking a peaceful demonstration is torn down and broken so that it can barely stand erect? Is this what it means to support Israel on Brandeis’ campus now? Does it mean destruction of anything that does not fit into a specific narrative? Does it mean aggression over dialogue?”
Sivan brings up an excellent point; vandalism like this is not dialogue and does not promote progress.
If you think that tearing up someone else’s political or politically interpreted sign or poster equates to meaningful dialogue, I strongly urge you to reconsider. To have and to express a political opinion is a right and a virtue, but something that we must allow others to have and do as well. Tearing down someone’s car sticker or door sign plainly shows the vandals’ points of view, but ceases expression of the opposing viewpoint.
The vandalism that took place at last year’s 9/11 memorial and that that took place at yesterday’s J Street U Brandeis installation does not promote dialogue. It is vandalism that aims to discredit, disqualify and silence the demonstrations’ aims. It’s vandalism: pure and simple. It is wholly counterproductive and runs antithetical to core Brandeis values. It must be stopped if we are to move forward as a community on any of our issues through constructive dialogue.