Yesterday was Yom Ha’atzmaut, a day of celebration for all Jewish and Israeli people.
But some at the University of Minnesota aren’t joining in on that celebration. Messages written in sidewalk chalk in front of the campus’ union by the university’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel were defaced on Thursday by an unknown opponent of the holiday.
“SSI condemns the acts that took place tonight at the University of Minnesota campus,” said SSI national director Naor Bitton.
The group started “chalking” on Wednesday evening, Bitton said.
But on Thursday morning, SSI members woke up to a Facebook post by the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine claiming no responsibility for the incident.
The statement mentioned the defacement was unrelated to SJP, and the organization denounces vandalism of any kind, though they mentioned, “Israel’s ‘birthday’ is established on the exile of an entire people.”
SSI originally wrote messages like “Celebrate Israel Independence” but after the incident, the statement was followed by the words, “if you have no soul.” Stars of David also had the letters “BDS” scrawled inside them.
Sympathizers left comments on Facebook photos of the incident, posting messages like, “that’s rude to do to other students,” and “People can think whatever they want about Israel but chalking is kind of a pain and it’s really rough that people ruined that.”
SSI vice president Sami Rahamim saw SJP’s Facebook post and thought it was a joke, though he quickly realized their chalking was vandalized.
The SJP post was last edited at 9:37 p.m. on Wednesday – about two hours after the original messages were finished.
Rahamim said he is skeptical of SJP’s claim of non-involvement, mentioning the quick turnover and events occurring the next day.
SSI members set up a table outside Northrop Auditorium Thursday afternoon to educate the public on Israel’s independence.
Rahamim made an offer to have an open conversation with her and her organization, but SJP turned it down.
“It’s alarming that any student group refuses to talk to someone,” he said, “especially when there’s someone dealing with an intense conflict that is only going to be solved through negotiation.”
Rahamim believes a friend of some of the SJP members completed the task for the group, but there is no evidence of who may have been involved.
The group filed a complaint with the Minnesota Student Association and the university’s Office of Equity and Diversity, as well as a vandalism report through the university’s police department.
Rahamim said they are waiting to receive video footage to track down who wrote the comments over theirs. He hopes the offender faces repercussions for writing anti-Semitic messages.
“The last thing I want is for a Jewish student on this campus to feel threatened,” Rahamim said.
SSI members are concerned about Boycott, Divest and Sanction coming to the university’s campus.
Rahamim plans to continue promoting Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East and explaining why the U.S. and Israel are allies.
He also expressed his willingness to speak with any students who want to discuss the conflict in the Middle East.
Jessie Bekker is an aspiring journalist, hobby photographer, and student at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she works for Minnesota Hillel and spends time exploring the Twin Cities. She’s got a love for Israeli food, bubble tea and late night walks around campus. Her best friends are her recorder and reporter’s notebook.