Upon reading the article in the Aggie about the act of vandalism, I was greatly saddened to hear that people responded so negatively. In my opinion, this was not a message of hate, but a message of peace: The peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, which people often forget should be the endpoint of the Middle East conflict.
When I first saw the unaltered mural on campus, I was horrified. Here, on a mural supposedly showing off Davis’ commitment to diversity was a symbol that, among other things, represents the murder and genocide of millions of innocent Jews and the ethnic cleansing of Judea. The bird, to me, seemed to aspire to a Jew-free Palestine, where Jews are not allowed to live or visit, which the current Palestinian leadership is, unfortunately, trying to create. In the light of the past year’s hate crimes against Jews and Israelis across the UC system, I felt this was in bad taste. Worse, I was deeply offended that a mural supposedly celebrating the diversity of the campus didn’t have a single symbol of Judaism anywhere. Jews are a minority in UC Davis, and we come in all races and colors. To leave the victims of hate crimes both in California and abroad throughout history off a mural that’s supposed to celebrate minorities seemed like an atrocity. I felt when looking at the mural, as I did when the hate crimes occurred, and as I do now, that Jews and Israelis are not welcome on campus, nor in the world the architects of this mural envision.
To me, the vandalism serves two purposes. The first is to “take back the paint,” so to speak, and show that Jews on this campus should not fear for their lives as we did in the spring, but can know that we have some power and that someone on the campus is willing to fight for our rights at a time when it is fashionable not to do so. The second is to make an offensive mural less offensive.
Consider if the vandal had more artistic skill, and was able to seamlessly integrate the symbol of Israel with the symbol of Palestine, so that the casual observer assumed the two were meant to be together. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? An Israeli-Palestinian-Peace bird, soaring upward and forward and taking both peoples to a bright new future where the hatred and the one-sided arguments that defined the 2009-2010 UC year were no longer in fashion. The tag was not a symbol of hate. It erased one, and made it a symbol of partnership. A two-state-solution, representing UC Davis’ commitment to peace, to freedom of expression and the continuing presence of Israeli students on a campus that, so far, has made no efforts to hide its disdain for them and views of them as secondary citizens. The mural now truly represents all of Davis’ minorities, including the one race that has suffered the most on this particular campus.
The best way to respond to this is not to blindly hate the change and certainly not to compare it to the hate crimes of last year (comparing Israel to Nazis is anti-Semitic, inaccurate, offensive and a common trick used to promote hatred against Jews and Israelis on campuses and in foreign nations). Rather, the campus should address the motives for the action: why did the vandal resort to covert action instead of openly stating his or her grievance? Why do Jews on campus feel too intimidated to speak up? Should we be proud that we held a week of anti-Israel activities on campus immediately following the arson of our Hillel in 2001? If the campus sees this as a hate crime instead of a glaring sign of how Jews and Israelis on this campus feel threatened, oppressed and unprotected despite the weak efforts of the campus to end hate, then it is doing itself a disservice. Perhaps the campus should ask itself why Jews (and gays, for that matter!) were left out of a mural promoting diversity and minorities, when hate crimes against these minority groups have surged in past years.
Vandalism, in any form, is always a crime, but I think this was a crime of love, and a sincere wish for peace. I’m sorry to see Students for Justice in Palestine pervert this message of cooperation into a supposed attack, and hope we see this as an opportunity for reconciliation and apology for past wrongs, not as an excuse for propaganda and a furtherance of bad blood.
Matan Shelomi is a graduate student in entomology.