Brandeis has launched an investigation into vandalism of art commissioned by Hillel for Israel Week. The art installation, which was erected for Hillel’s “Israel Week,” was professionally painted by a group named “Artists 4 Israel” on three of the sides, and the fourth side was left blank for student contributions.
The painting on one of the sides originally read “Israel,” but was painted over with the words “Free Palestine.” After Hillel repainted the surface to read “coexist,” students duct-taped a sign that read, “Stop lying to young Jews #FreePalestine” over the new painting. The culprits of the original vandalism are unknown, and the students responsible for the second act are going through the university’s conduct process, according to a statement released by President Ron Liebowitz.
In a statement released on Facebook, IfNotNow Brandeis, a pro-Palestine group that is responsible for the cardboard sign, said that the art installation was a “representation of how Hillel continues to promote a one-sided narrative.”
Liebowitz said that “the targeting of Hillel, a Jewish organization, could easily lead one to interpret the acts as anti-Semitic, and the university strongly condemns anti-Semitism.”
“Free speech does not allow one to destroy, deface, or disrupt the free speech or activities of others, including those with whom one disagrees,” said Liebowitz. “Brandeis University stands for the open and constructive exchange of ideas. It stands against efforts to prevent this exchange.”
IfNotNow then responded with another public statement in which it defended its actions and expressed disappointment with the university.
“To us, the Jewish tradition means asking difficult questions, looking difficult truths in the eye, and fighting for what’s right. When we share our deep concerns about the moral crisis unfolding in Israel and Palestine — as we did when we wrote on the Israel cube — we were rooted in the values and stories of our parents and grandparents, and in a thousand-year-old Jewish ethical tradition that we cherish,” said the statement. “It is because of the Jewish tradition of repairing the world (tikkun olam), and not in spite of it, that we believe in the possibility of a Jewish community that seeks freedom and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. It is because of the Jewish tradition of asking hard questions that we can envision a Jewish community that welcomes anti-occupation Jews.”
IfNotNow said that they were “singled-out” for their beliefs and their contribution. “President Liebowitz’s email claimed that we violated our fellow students’ free speech by voicing our views in this collaborative setting. This could not be farther from the truth: our action was itself a participation in dialogue, and it prompted a productive discussion that included members of Hillel, SJP, BIPAC, J Street U and more. Dozens of students gathered to share their unique perspectives on this critical issue and talk about our differences.”
Jackie Zenou ’19, former member of Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC)’s board and a member of Brandeis Hillel, previously told The Hoot that if the message had been written on the fourth, blank side of the cube, the dialogue would’ve been in line with their mission. Hillel tries to offer different perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict, according to Rabbi Seth Winberg, Executive Director of Hillel. “We are pro-Israel, and we encourage dialog. That is why we hosted two Palestinians this year in conversation with Israeli Jews – to model respectful disagreement and dialog,” said Winberg in an email to The Hoot.
“Expressing sincerely held beliefs through open conversation is even more important than usual. Disrupting events erodes our ability to have those conversations; vandalizing property is destructive and violates our communal rights and standards. If I saw a pro-Palestinian art installation being vandalized, I’d report it,” said Winberg.
Winberg said that Hillel does not have a role in the conduct investigation, but it appreciates President Liebowitz’s statement and hopes that the University conducts a thorough investigation.
President Liebowitz and IfNotNow both declined to further comment on the issue or the investigation.