Brandeis University is investigating at least two cases of vandalism of a pro-Israel display put up by the university Hillel chapter during Israel week. A pro-Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the incident.
Ronald Liebowitz, the president of Brandeis University, released a statement in mid-May stating that a sign reading “Stop lying to young Jews #FreePalestine” was attached to the display. He said that the perpetrators “took credit on social media and made their identities known,” as The Jerusalem Post also reported.
“These acts of vandalism violate the university’s recently adopted principles of free expression,” Leibowitz said. “Free speech does not allow one to destroy, deface, or disrupt the free speech or activities of others, including those with whom one disagrees.”
According to Liebowitz, both vandalism cases are under investigation and are going through the school’s “conduct process.” Other individuals wrote “Free Palestine” with graffiti on the display, but the Brandeis president said that this vandalism occurred before sunrise and without witnesses.
IfNotNow Brandeis, a group which describes itself as “part of a national movement of young Jews working to end the Jewish community's support for the occupation in Israel/Palestine,” took credit on Facebook for posting the first message that Liebowitz described.
“We feel as though the choice to cover the message of Palestinian solidarity without addressing the legitimate concerns of the sentiment was irresponsible,” IfNotNow said. “As a university committed to social justice, we should be promoting dialogue, not suppressing it.”
“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,” Liebowitz said.
Following the president’s statement, IfNotNow wrote on Facebook that Liebowitz “attacked” its “contribution” to the art display put up by Hillel, accusing the “Jewish establishment” of a “tendency to isolate, erase, and attack Jews who express concern over the moral crisis of the occupation.”
The group vehemently denied that it violated Hillel’s right to free speech, claiming that its sign “was itself a participation in dialogue, and it prompted a productive discussion that included members of Hillel, SJP, BIPAC, J Street U, and more.”
However, the Brandeis Hillel had previously said that the art display was a collaborative effort, stating in a Facebook post on May 2 that one out of the four sides of the display was for “student expression.” The other three sides, however, were considered “commissioned works of art,” thereby making them not open for student additions.
According to the statement, the sign reading “Stop lying to young Jews #FreePalestine,” was put on one of the sides that was not open to additions.
“All are invited to these spaces. It is worth noting, again, that one side of the block was open for student expression,” the Hillel chapter stated. “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.”
Rena Nasar, managing director of campus affairs at pro-Israel group StandWithUs, told Campus Reform that Brandeis is doing the right thing by condemning the vandalism.
"Brandeis is doing the right thing by strongly condemning this incident and holding violators of free speech accountable,” Nasar said. “Other universities should follow their example when faced with similar cases."
Campus Reform reached out to the university to confirm that IfNotNow was the group that Liebowitz was referencing, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
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