There has been a lot of discussion over the last 24 hours, on campus and on social media, about the defacement, restoration, and subsequent defacement of an art exhibition, part of Brandeis Hillel’s “Israel Week,” on the Great Lawn. One face of the four-sided block was an open canvas for student expression; on the other three sides were commissioned works of art. On Tuesday night, someone crudely vandalized one of these panels, which colorfully displayed the word “Israel,” and on Wednesday, disappointed by the vandalism, we turned around the defaced panel, revealing a blank canvas, and restored it, painting the center with the word “coexist.”
To our disappointment, this restored panel was again defaced, with a duct-taped cardboard sign covering up the panel’s message.
A great number of Brandeis students have family and friends in Israel or are themselves Israeli. A greater number have lived there for a significant portion of their young adult lives. Israel Week is an opportunity for these students, and the entire Brandeis community, to celebrate a country to which many Brandeisians are intimately connected—a space which recognizes all the complexity that loving Israel, like loving any country, carries with it. Other events this week include a “block party” on the Great Lawn, coffee samples from Aroma, a ubiquitous Israeli café chain and a conversation in the Brandeis Beit Midrash about Israeli history and its role in contemporary Jewish religious thought.
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. Earlier this year, we hosted Yossi Klein HaLevi, a prominent public intellectual in Israel, and Walid Issa, an American-Palestinian economist, to discuss HaLevi’s book, “Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor.” We hosted an Israeli lawmaker from the Labour Party who fielded a number of questions about the conflict and his party’s proposed way forward. And in February, Hillel hosted two activists, one Palestinian and one Israeli, for a workshop on solution-oriented activism.
All are invited to these spaces. It is worth noting, again, that one side of the block was open for student expression. 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.