(December 14, 2018 / JNS) A mural at Pomona College that reads “Antisemitism exists. Acknowledge it” in remembrance of the deadliest attack in American Jewish history has been defaced at least twice.
Just days after the shooting, which killed 11 people at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the word “Antisemitism” was erased.
Sometime later, the memorial was vandalized with the words “Palestine exists. Acknowledge it,” and a Palestinian flag was painted.
Pomona alum Katherine Dolgenos shared images of the mural defaced and expressed her disdain in a Facebook post, which she gave JNS permission to quote: “This mural has nothing to do with Israel. Its message should not be controversial in any way. I loved my time at Pomona, and I love the Claremont Colleges, but their inability or unwillingness to address anti-Semitism is ridiculous.”
“I find it frustrating that all Jewish issues have become so politicized on our campus,” Pomona junior and Alpha Epsilon Pi member Sam Lushtak told JNS. “Students feel like they can’t be active as Jews, even with something as simple as having Shabbat, without being forced into getting involved in politics, especially with this controversial issue that often gets very personal if you don’t hold a certain narrow set of beliefs.”
“It has a chilling effect on the Jewish community on a campus which prides itself on helping communities express themselves,” he added.
Senior Hallie Goldstein thinks “the biggest problem is that aside from a handful of outraged Jewish students, nobody is talking about this. Not our administrations, not our school newspapers, not our campus minority groups; no one.
“What stings the most is that whenever any other minority group is targeted in some way, all five of our colleges are buzzing with conversation, with statements of condemnation, with student-written articles and with support resources,” she told JNS. “However, it is [always] a double standard whenever Jews are the subject of a hate crime or discriminatory act.”
The scariest thing, continued Goldstein, “is that in an extremely well-educated, bright, passionate university demographic, people aren’t giving this hate crime the attention it deserves. To me, that solidifies the fact that most of these students do not truly believe anti-Semitism is a problem, when in fact it surrounds us everywhere, both in implicit and explicit ways.”
A spokesperson for Pomona College did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Groups such as StandWithUs and the AMCHA Initiative condemned the vandalism.
“All too frequently, Jewish students are blamed and targeted for harm, with actions such as vandalism, harassment and even assault, simply because of their presumed support for Israel,” AMCHA founder and director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told JNS. “And frighteningly, this is a perfect example.”
“A mural that honors victims of the Pittsburgh massacre—the deadliest incident of anti-Semitism in U.S. history—and that also acknowledges the frightening spike in anti-Semitism across our country is grotesquely desecrated with anti-Israel graffiti,” she continued.
“What makes matters worse is that while the anti-Semitism that comes from the extreme right is promptly acknowledged and condemned by university leaders, the anti-Israel anti-Semitism that comes from the extreme left, which is what we see a lot of on campus, is often excused as political speech and permitted,” added Rossman-Benjamin.
She called for the end of this double standard, saying “harassment is harassment—no matter the motivation—and all harassing behavior must be addressed equally on campus. University leaders must guarantee that all students, including Jewish and pro-Israel students, are protected from all forms of hate-fueled aggression, harassment and violence.”
“It’s outrageous that anyone would deface an anti-Semitism mural commemorating the victims in Pittsburgh. This is a perfect example of how anti-Israel activism often descends into racism against Jews,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS. “Pomona College must take urgent action to educate its students about anti-Semitism and ensure a safe learning environment for Jews on campus.”