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May 10, 2017 5:12 pm

Pro-Israel Peace Mural Vandalized at University of California-Santa Barbara Amid ‘Hostile Environment’ Ahead of BDS Vote

avatar by Rachel Frommer

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The new UCSB mural, repainted following two vandalism incidents. Photo: Courtesy of StandWithUs.

A pro-Israel peace mural was vandalized twice last weekend at a major California school, ahead of a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) vote by the university’s student government that a campus leader said has created a “difficult, challenging and hostile environment.”

Nate Erez — the president of the University of California-Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that the mural was erected last Thursday as a collaborative effort between SSI and Hillel, as part of Israel Peace Week. Over the weekend, an unknown perpetrator — who Erez said was “definitely with the pro-divestment side” —  scrawled “Free Palestine” across the mural; this occurred after the same phrase had been etched in smaller letters a day earlier, though that created minimal damage students had fixed themselves.

Following the second incident, the group that had created the mural, Artists 4 Israel, was contacted and a local artist with the group returned quickly to the campus to paint a new mural focusing on the message “Stop Hate.”

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The artist also wrote: “This mural was originally created by pro-Israel groups to express love, peace, unity. It was vandalized overnight by anti-Israel groups. Those who vandalized are likely the same who want 2 divide campus with a BDS vote. Stand up 4 tolerance & respect!”

Erez said that though a police report had been filed and the “extremely accommodating” administration was contacted, without a camera in the area of the mural and no eyewitnesses it was unlikely that those responsible would be identified.

Craig Dershowitz — the executive director of Artists 4 Israel — told The Algemeiner that with 67 projects on campuses across the country this academic year, his artists had faced protests, but never before had a mural vandalized.

“Our goal is beauty and creation — art,” he said. “It’d be really hard and honestly stupid for someone to go against that. I was really surprised that the one campus where our work was vandalized was UCSB. It seemed a place of such fraternity and brotherhood, not a place of blind hate.”

Dershowitz added he did not think the incident was indicative of the views of the larger student population, and that it had only resolved his commitment to return to the UCSB campus next year.

UCSB Hillel’s executive director, Evan Goodman, told The Algemeiner the “vandalization was incredibly frustrating, but not surprising.”

“BDS in general, not just this campaign, tends to bring out the worst in people who are anti-Israel,” he said. “Every time BDS comes up, antisemitic incidents go up and brings out the antisemites on a campus. BDS dramatically harms campus environment for all students, because it is not about dialogue, but about demonizing one side over the over.”

Dean Secharia — a student affiliated with SSI and an Emerson fellow with the Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs  — said that since the UCSB BDS campaign was launched on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the campus has been hit by a near-constant barrage of antisemitic behavior from members of the pro-BDS Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group, with most incidents involving social media harassment.

“We are constantly attacked online,” Secharia stated. “I’ve wasted so much valuable time, effort, stress and frustration fighting this Facebook war.”

SSI’s Erez said the mural was not a response to the “apartheid wall” erected in the main thoroughfare on campus last week by SJP, but that the difference in how the two installations were treated “makes it pretty clear to the objective viewer who the hostile party is.”

“For a week, they had their 40-foot wall up — a wall that was, by the way, covered in lies and a map of all of Israel labeled ‘Palestine’ — and nobody touched it,” he pointed out. “Ours — which was something universally loved, a piece of art, and had nothing political on it — compelled vandalization within a day.”

As The Algemeiner reported, the SJP “apartheid wall” featured falsified quotes from Israeli leaders, including one claiming David Ben-Gurion, the country’s late first prime minister, supported expulsion of Arabs and another taken out of context from comments by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak about Israel’s use of force against Palestinians.

Erez and Secharia both expressed total confidence that the BDS resolution would be defeated in the vote on Wednesday evening, which was to take place following an open forum debate between pro- and anti-BDS activists that is expected to be lengthy and intense.

UCSB Divest did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.

A BDS vote will be taking place at California State University-Long Beach on Wednesday, as well. There, a Jewish former student senator and a fellow with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America wrote last week that the resolution was “the most hateful, divisive, discriminatory, anti-Semitic piece of legislation that I have ever had the misfortune to see on this campus.”

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