May 3, 2005

Swastikas defile CFI posters in Ex Libris

Three posters advertising an event for the Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) were defaced with swastikas on Sunday evening in the Regenstein Library. More of the same posters were found torn down and vandalized in various places around campus on Monday, according to CFI president Jon Hirsch, a second-year in the College.

At approximately 10 p.m., the Maroon was alerted to the fact that swastikas had been drawn on three CFI posters for Israel Week, in the stairwell leading to the Ex Libris, the Regenstein Library coffee shop. The swastikas had apparently been drawn with a blue ballpoint pen, and were accompanied by an "X" over the face of the keynote speaker for an event CFI will host on May 9 as part of Israel Week. No one has come forward to identify the perpetrator.

Hirsch said that CFI members had posted the posters by around 7 p.m. on Sunday. Upon learning of the vandalism in the Regenstein, Hirsch conducted a survey of the posters around campus on Monday afternoon. "Many CFI flyers had been torn down while others had been taken down and taped backwards, with the information facing the wall," he said. Hirsch noted that posters advertising other events had been taped over the CFI posters, in spite of "ample unused space" to either side. A hole had been burned into one flyer, disfiguring the image of the event's speaker.

According to Hirsch and former CFI president Adam Weissmann, a fourth-year in the College and member of CFI, this is the third consecutive year in which CFI flyers have been negatively targeted. Weissmann recalled an incident from April 2002 in which a 12-page manifesto, featuring swastikas and anti-Semitic cartoons, was posted in the hallway of Pierce Hall.

Israel Week is traditionally celebrated between Holocaust Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day, and begins this year on May 4. Weissmann said that CFI started a celebration of Israel Week in spring 2003, for which the group posted "large, glossy flyers" around campus. "Ninety percent of the posters were torn down in two days," he said, and some were defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic quotes.

In fall 2003, CFI advertised a panel entitled "Why I am a Zionist." Alternative posters mocking the panel were subsequently posted, reversing the order of the title to read: "Why am I a Zionist?" and falsifying the original information. Last spring, CFI intentionally planned a poster campaign that would not arouse passions, focusing on achievements of Israelis in technology, such as the invention of AOL instant messenger and the clothing company GAP. Hirsch said that the flyers were also torn down and defaced.

Vice President and Dean of Students in the University Steve Klass condemned the recent acts of vandalism. "This kind of public poster defacement is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated by this community," he said. "Policy-wise, these behaviors violate University standards when they threaten the security of individuals or groups of individuals, or inhibit any individual's or group's full-participation in the life of the University."

Klass noted that the perpetrator might not be a student, given that the vandalism took place in publicly accessible spaces. He said that if there were evidence that a student had committed this kind of vandalism, the student would likely be brought before a divisional disciplinary committee and could face sanctions ranging from disciplinary probation to expulsion.

Neither Klass's office, nor the Regenstein, has received reports of someone vandalizing posters. He emphasized the importance of notifying the administration of such behavior: "There are very few symbols more heinous and more aggressively hateful than the swastika. I strongly encourage any student with a complaint about specific acts . . . to the attention of their local dean of students," he said.

Susan Art, dean of students in the College, has previously met with CFI to discuss concerns of anti-Semitism on campus. She said CFI members discussed their feelings about their security, but that no specific policy resolutions were taken. Dismayed by the recent events, Art said that the University would continue to keep the campus aware of postering rules.

Klass and University Provost Richard Saller sent an e-mail to the student body in fall 2004 outlining the University's policy regarding harassment and academic freedom. The memo cites University Statute 21, which prohibits "heckling speakers, and defacing, removing or obscuring announcements, fliers, posters, or other publications to prevent them from reaching their intended audiences."

Hirsch criticized the perpetrator of the defacement for not contributing constructively to an important debate. "They should feel free to come to our event and question our speaker," he said. "That is what academic discourse is all about."