Pro-Israel posters defaced for fifth straight year

By Abby Seiff

Last weekend marked the fifth consecutive year when posters advertising an upcoming Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) event were found defaced.

The posters announced a talk to be given by Michael Barone, senior writer at U.S. News and World Report. When CFI members arrived at Cobb to refresh the supply Sunday evening, they found the posters torn and defiled.

Wednesday’s talk is titled “The War on Islamist Terror.” Vandals had scratched out the last letters so it read “The War on Islam.” Other posters were ripped in half and discarded.

The incident is the latest in a five-year stretch that has seen CFI billings reworded, covered up, shredded, and plastered with swastikas. To date the University has taken no official action in response to the most recent case.

“This is something we shouldn’t have to deal with here,” said Jon Hirsch, a third-year in the College and president of CFI. “It’s getting ridiculous already—that a student organization can’t put on an event without getting their posters defaced.”

The repetition of these episodes has also raised larger questions about the role of the University in dealing with such attacks. According to Susan Art, dean of students in the College, the University can act in a punitive manner only if they catch the perpetrators.

“Were we to catch an individual in the act of defacing posters, they would be subject to discipline, but unfortunately we usually do not know who has done this,” Art said.

Provost Richard Saller echoed her response: “Defacement of approved posters is a violation of the Statues,” he said. “We condemn it, but find it hard to police. If someone were caught doing this, we would consider disciplinary action.”

Though the administration maintains a file recording the defacement incidents, there have been no campus-wide e-mails responding to the cases in the last few years.

For Charles Lipson, a political science professor and CFI faculty advisor, the actions run counter to the academic tone of the campus.

“Although Middle East issues are controversial, the right way to deal with controversy is to encourage speech, not suppress it, to let others have their say and then respond with better arguments, if you have any, not coerce others into silence,” Lipson said. “Students who tear down or deface posters lack a basic understanding of what our Constitution guarantees and what our university is built upon.”

Hirsch, too, viewed the vandalism as detrimental to the atmosphere of a campus popularly touted for its intellectual atmosphere. “It’s not a climate of fear but of frustration and it’s antithetical to the ideals here,” he said. “This is about establishing a tone of respect and civility on campus, without which discourse and learning cannot take place.”

In a letter to the University community last week, unrelated to the vandalism, President Randal, Dean Klass, and Provost Saller insisted that the school “remains fully committed to exposing and addressing the factors that negatively affect the quality of life for some members of our community.”

In the meantime, Hirsch added: “The best way to combat it is through education. We’ll keep putting on events. We’ll keep putting up posters.”