Tuesday night, members of Yale Friends of Israel set up a vigil for victims of a car bombing in Israel. The morning after, they found pieces of their memorial scattered across Cross Campus.
Following the destruction of the memorial and other recent acts of defacement and vandalization, YFI members fear that the free expression of their views on Israel is becoming increasingly threatened.
The events come amid an increasingly charged atmosphere on campuses nationwide over Israel-related issues. At Yale and on other campuses, some students have pushed for universities to stop investing in Israeli businesses until disputed territories are given to the Palestinians.
YFI members said that photographs and biographies of the 14 Israelis killed in a car bombing Monday in northern Israel had been removed, and objects broken. Anticipating defacement, members said they removed the Israeli flag, which was part of the memorial, when they left.
YFI members also said they took down one of their anti-divestment posters — petitions for recognition of Israel as an independent state — in the Law School earlier this week because the phrase “Zionism is Racism” had been written across it in black letters. Before former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke at Battell Chapel Oct. 10, nearly all the posters announcing his visit were torn down, including the one in the Joseph Slifka Center, YFI members said.
YFI member Michael Marco ’06, who planned the Tuesday night vigil with Robert Spiro ’06, said there was no way to tell if those responsible for the Law School graffiti knocked over the memorial as well.
But Nelson Moussazadeh ’05, a YFI member who helped plan the vigil, said the recent vandalism had led YFI members to expect problems.
“Jews took down the Israeli flag because they were scared it would be defaced,” Moussazadeh said.
Marco called the vandalism of the memorial “a horrible expression of hatred that has no place on campus.”
“You can’t help but ask the question: was it deliberate?” Marco said. “If that’s the case, I think it’s just a shame.”
Saqib Bhatti ’04, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, said SJP does not condone the defacement of property, even if they do not agree with the ideas being expressed. Bhatti said YFI is not the only group whose materials have been vandalized.
“[SJP] has to worry constantly about what it puts up [for public display],” Bhatti said. “We know what it’s like to not have our views be given a forum in the public discourse.”
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the events of the past week bothered her.
“I think any kind of destruction is reprehensible,” Trachtenberg said. “For people to squelch those kind of symbols anonymously is cowardly.”
Divestment from Israel and concerns about anti-Semitism have prompted impassioned discussion at other campuses as well.
Recent demonstrations at Harvard by Palestinian and Israeli supporters for and against divestment, respectively, prompted University President Larry Summers to announce that Harvard will not divest from Israel. In a speech last month, Summers said that supporters of ideas including divestment are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.”
What Marco said he found most disturbing, however, was that people did not recognize that the vigil was primarily about “mourning the victims of terrorism.”
“That people have a problem with that is upsetting,” Marco added.