Amnesty International's Arts Quad flag display before it was vandalized Wednesday night.

Michaela Brew / Sun Senior Photographer

Amnesty International's Arts Quad flag display before it was vandalized Wednesday night.

May 2, 2016

Cornell Police Investigate Vandalism of Amnesty International Flag Display

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Cornell police are currently investigating an incident of vandalism on the Arts Quad in which nearly 200 of 250 flags in an Cornell Amnesty International display were stolen and scattered around North Campus, as recounted in a statement by the club.

The exhibit was part of the Week of Action — which aims to raise awareness about the obstacles refugees face — and was erected on the quad Wednesday, featuring flags from Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Somalia.

The vandalism likely took place Wednesday night, according to Christopher Hanna ’18, co-president of Amnesty International. Hanna added that most of the flags removed were from Palestine, Iraq and Syria.

Vandals removed flags from each of the five countries in the display, with the majority from Palestine, Iraq and Syria.

Courtesy of Christopher Hanna '18

Vandals removed flags from each of the five countries in the display — however, a majority tampered with were from Palestine, Iraq and Syria.

“I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but the countries that were targeted were the three ‘Arab’ countries in the ‘Middle East,” he said. “[These countries] are the same ones whose residents and expatriates often bear the brunt of racist sentiment in the U.S., which leads me to believe that there is a connection between this incident and the larger atmosphere of xenophobia accompanying the refugee crisis. “

Hanna said he believes the vandalism was motivated by a desire “to obstruct and silence political dialogue” at Cornell.

“In light of toxic anti-refugee sentiment across the country, it’s difficult not to think that Islamophobia and racism motivated the perpetrator to damage the exhibit,” Hanna said.

A similar incident occurred in Oct. 2014, when signs publicizing the Israel-Palestine conflict — placed on the Arts Quad by Students for Justice in Palestine — were repeatedly removed, according to a representative of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action.

Incidents like these “create an unsafe and hostile environment on this campus,” the COLA representative said.

Several campus organizations — including COLA, Asian Pacific Americans for Action, the Arab Student Association and the Islamic Alliance for Justice — have posted messages of solidarity on Facebook.

IAJ President Saim Chaudhary ’17 said the organizations involved in the Week of Action will use the vandalism as incentive to continue their activities “with greater conviction, motivation and intensity.”

“We cannot argue, reason or debate with a person or a group that believes in suppression of free speech, vandalism and defacement of flags of other countries,” Chaudhary said. “Those who are against [our] activities need to start looking beyond the ethnicity, faith and nationality of the refugees.”

Salma Shitia ’18, president of ASA, added that she hopes the Cornell community will remember the Amnesty International display’s original goal.

“We want nothing negative such as this theft to detract attention from the humanitarian crisis at hand, as well as the Week of Action’s effort to raise awareness and support,” Shitia said.

Amnesty International will also avoid granting the vandalism additional publicity, according to the organization’s statement.

“We want to reiterate the focus of our efforts — which is to spread awareness about the refugee crisis and to raise funds for displaced persons,” the statement said. “Now more than ever, it’s important that we ‪#‎StandWithSyrianRefugees‬ and support each other in our efforts to resolve the refugee crisis.”

Josh Girsky ’19 contributed reporting to this article.

  • I hope the Cornell Police can figure out who did this and bring him or her to justice. They have one clue already: whoever it is obviously believes their cause is so weak that they can not win on a level playing field of ideas.

    The cowards of today who are condemning Syrian Refugees to misery and death are similar to the cowards of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s who condemned Jews to die in the Holocaust by refusing to let them in because they feared they could be unwilling spies working for Germany. That fear existed in June 1939 when the U.S. turned away the ocean liner St. Louis. A quarter of its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, died in the Holocaust. The fear increased when Herbert Karl Friederich Bahr, a German spy, tried to enter the U.S. as a refugee. (Bahr wasn’t Jewish, but such trivial details were apparently unimportant to anti-refugee fear mongerers back then.) I encourage you to read this article and compare the refugee situation just before and during World War II with the refugee situation today.

    Historians have concluded that the fear of spying was overblown back then, just as I suspect future historians will conclude that the fear of terrorism being used to keep out Syrian refugees is overblown today.

    Letting in more Syrian refugees, contrary to what the fearmongerers claim, won’t significantly jeopardize our security. I explain why here.

  • Roger Toning

    Vandalize a flag at Cornell, and you are in for real trouble. Rape somebody, and Cornell police looks the other way.

    • Disgruntled Conservative

      Echoes of the 9/11 memorial vandalism of U.S. flags on the Arts Quad just last semester.

  • Same Old, Same Old

    Guarantee you it’s a drunk freshmen… Don’t read too deep into this.

  • Arafat

    Whoever did it probably understands AI’s bigotry.

    Amnesty International Secretariat: 2014 total income of £61,743,000 (accessed July 28, 2015).
    Amnesty International-UK: 2014 expenses of £23 million.
    Amnesty International-US: 2013 expenses of $34 million (latest available; accessed July 28, 2015).
    Although AI claims that it does not “accept any funds for human rights research from governments or political parties from governments or political parties,” it has received governmental funding, including from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission, the Netherlands, the United States, and Norway.

    For updated information see “Amnesy International” Failed Methodology, Corruption, and Anti-Israel Bias” (published December 3, 2014; updated February 23, 2015).

    Claims to be “Independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion… it does not support or oppose any government or political system.”
    Political Advocacy:

    Disproportionately singles out Israel for condemnation, focusing solely on the conflict with the Palestinians, misrepresenting the complexity of the conflict, and ignoring more severe human rights violations in the region.
    In violation of its policy of “impartiality,” Amnesty employs two anti-Israel activists with well-documented histories of radical activism in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Deborah Hyams and Saleh Hijazi, as researchers in its “Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Authority” section.
    Beginning September 2015, Amnesty co-sponsored a speaking tour in the United States for Bassem Tamimi. Tamimi was convicted in 2012 of encouraging Palestinian youths to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. His appearance in a third grade classroom sparked outrage, and the school’s superintendant denounced the remarks as “inflammatory.” Tamimi has, in addition to inciting violence, expressed support for anti-semitic sentiments including the claim that Israelis detain Palestinian children to harvest their organs and that the Zionists control the media.
    The only resolution rejected by Amnesty-UK at its 2015 annual conference was a motion that called for the organization to take steps to address rising antisemitism in the UK.
    Allegations of “war crimes”

    Distorts international law, misusing terms like “collective punishment,” “occupying power,” and “disproportionate” in its condemnations of Israel’s Gaza policy.
    In July 2015, launched an online “Gaza Platform,” to “map[] Israeli attacks in Gaza” during the 2014 Gaza conflict. The Platform repeats the baseless and distorted accusations of Al Mezan and Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), does not employ credible research methodology, and reflects Amnesty’s lack of military and legal expertise.
    Following the 2014 Gaza war, Amnesty published a 48-page report, “Families under the Rubble,” purporting to document “the devastating toll on civilians and civilian property was out of all proportion to any military advantage [achieved by Israel] from the attack and/or that Israel failed to take necessary precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects.” By Amnesty’s own admission, its methodology in attempting to investigate was faulty and incomplete, and it cannot possibly possess the requisite information to draw meaningful conclusions.
    Published a February 2014 report, “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” alleging that “Israeli forces have repeatedly violated their obligations under international human rights law by using excessive force to stifle dissent and freedom of expression, resulting in a pattern of unlawful killings and injuries to civilians.”
    AI hosted a “Russell Tribunal on Palestine” on November 8, 2010, dealing with “Corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of International Law.”

    On February 2, 2009, several media outlets reported that AI transferred files to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor regarding alleged “war crimes” committed by Israel. These reports made no mention of any AI initiative regarding Hamas war crimes aided by Iran and Syria.
    AI defended the exploitation of British courts by pro-Palestinian “lawfare” activists. Amnesty-UK Director Kate Allen, along with other NGO officials, signed a letter published in the Guardian (“We must not renege on war crime laws,” January 16, 2010), protesting proposed changes to British law that would limit the unregulated access to UK judges that allows for politically motivated cases.
    Arms embargo against Israel

    Amnesty regularly campaigns for an arms embargo against Israel, while ignoring the massive flow of offensive weapons and explosives from Iran and Syria into Gaza.
    In 2015, Amnesty International – UK called on Britain to cancel all arms exports to Israel, claiming that “By supplying arms – even indirectly –the UK could have helped to facilitate war crimes.”
    An April 1, 2009 press release (“Shipment reaches Israel, President Obama urged to halt further exports”) revealed that AI tracked a vessel carrying arms across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Mediterranean Sea. Amnesty-USA accompanied this report with a call for action, including letters to Secretary of State Clinton labeling Israel a “grave violator of human rights” and demanding to know the “reason behind sending these arms now.”
    Defending those linked to terror

    In 2015, blogger “Elder of Ziyon” revealed that, in 2007, Amnesty campaigner Saleh Hijazi’s Facebook profile picture was a photo of Leila Khaled, a PFLP terrorist and airline hijacker, while in 2012, his profile picture was a photo of Khader Adnan, a leader of the Islamic Jihad terror organization. In addition, while studying at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Hijazi wrote his thesis on “Yasser Arafat: A Palestinian Prophet in the Formation of Palestinian National Identity.”
    Following the January 2011 conviction and sentencing of Ittijah head Ameer Makhoul on charges of spying for Hezbollah, AI claimed, “Ameer Makhoul’s jailing is a very disturbing development…[He] is well known for his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel and those living under Israeli occupation. We fear that this may be the underlying reason for his imprisonment.”
    In 2010, senior staff member Gita Saghal was suspended after she condemned AI’s alliance with an alleged Taliban supporter.
    On August 17, 2015, a series of articles published in the Times (London) revealed that Yasmin Hussein, currently Amnesty International’s Director of Faith and Human Rights and formerly Director of International Advocacy, has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly to Hamas.
    “Apartheid” rhetoric

    The release of the report “Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water” (October 2009) coincided with a campaign alleging that “Israel’s Control of Water [is] a Tool of Apartheid and a Means of Ethnic Cleansing.” Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide, spoke at the Amnesty-UK release of the report, as well as at other Amnesty-UK events.
    Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty UK’s “crisis response manager,” has a strong anti-Israel obsession, fueled by global conspiracy theories. On November 19, 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, he tweeted: “Louise Ellman, Robert Halfon & Luciana Berger walk into a bar….each orders a round of B52s (inspired by @KarlreMarks Bar quips) #Gaza.” The three people he characterized as war-mongers are British Members of Parliament, all of whom are Jewish. (See here, here and here for more on Benedict’s anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric).
    In August 2010, the executive director of Amnesty-Finland, Frank Johansson, referred to Israel as “a scum state” on his blog. Amnesty International Australia has been accused of exercising improper oversight over its Facebook page, where several racist and antisemitic comments have been posted. One such comment states: “May god send another Hitler and rid the world from the cancer called the Jews.”
    In December 2013, admitted to working with the Alkarama foundation, a Geneva-based organization claiming to promote human rights, whose Qatari co-founder, Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi (Nu’aymi), has been accused of financing Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.
    On April 21, 2012, ICAHD-UK held its Spring Conference and Annual General Meeting at Amnesty-UK’s Human Rights Action Centre. ICAHD leads BDS campaigns, including accusations of “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” etc.

  • Arafat

    You reap what you sow?

    Amnesty International’s Jewish ProblemAmnesty International’s Jewish Problem
    The once laudable organization is obsessed with demonizing the Jewish state.
    by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

    On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, Amnesty International released its latest attack on Israel: a highly biased report that accuses the Jewish state of war crimes in its fighting in Gaza over the previous summer. Avoiding the use of the word “terror” in relation to Hamas, and failing to mention the terrorist tunnels Hamas built in order to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks, Amnesty’s report was followed up later in the day with a Tweet from a senior Amnesty official, equating the Jewish state with the terror group ISIS, which has beheaded countless Muslims and Western journalists across Syria and Iraq.
    A senior Amnesty official equated the Jewish state with the terror group ISIS.
    The report is typical of Amnesty’s highly critical style towards Israel. As Israel responds that Amnesty “serves as a propaganda tool for Hamas and other terror groups” it’s worth asking how such a worthy organization as Amnesty International could have fallen so far, and wound up obsessed with demonizing the Jewish state.
    I remember as a child our class writing letters to the USSR, protesting the jailing of Soviet Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel. We relied on information and names of Jewish prisoners of conscience often provided by Amnesty International. The very term prisoner of conscience was Amnesty’s coinage, and it conveyed the profound injustice facing the refuseniks: Soviet Jews whose petitions to move to Israel had been denied. In those dark days of Soviet repression, it was Amnesty International who detailed the horrendous conditions the prisoners were kept in, and who made sure the world knew their names. Many refuseniks, such as Ida Nudel and Natan Sharansky, today head of Israel’s Jewish Agency, were first identified by Amnesty researchers.
    Amnesty International started with a cri de coeur – a vivid 1961 newspaper article by a London lawyer named Peter Benenson titled “The Forgotten Prisoners,” about the many political prisoners languishing in jails around the world. Benenson had recently read about two students in Portugal, then a fascist dictatorship, who were sentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses and making a toast to freedom. He wanted to do something about it.
    “We have set up an office in London to collect information about the names, numbers, and conditions of what we have decided to call ‘Prisoners of Conscience,’” Benenson announced, “and we define them thus: ‘Any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing… any opinion which he honestly holds and which does not advocate or condone personal violence.’” Donations poured in, and Amnesty International, as the new group was called, started collecting and publicizing information about political prisoners.
    But as the years passed, Amnesty’s focus became not only exposing prisoners of conscience, but advocating specific policies, too. As its ambitions expanded, Israel increasingly found itself the focus of Amnesty International’s condemnations. The recent, outrageously biased report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza is the culmination of a decades-long trend of demonization of the Jewish state.
    An early change in Amnesty’s activities came in 2002, at the infamous UN World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, South Africa. Amnesty International officials participated by targeting the Jewish state. Officials distributed material detailing examples of racism and human rights abuses around the world, mentioning only one nation – Israel – by name. Irene Kahn, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, later admitted her organization should have named other countries, too, but the damage was done: the Durban conference, encouraged by the non-governmental organizations like Amnesty in attendance, produced a highly biased anti-Israel final report that still is influencing policy discussions today. Lending its prestige to the hate-fest at Durban, Amnesty helped single out the Jewish state as somehow uniquely evil, unparalleled in human affairs.
    War Crimes
    Amnesty’s criticism of Israel has increased after Durban; one powerful strategy has been to accuse Israel of war crimes.
    2006 was a turning point. That year, after Israel fought a four-week war against the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, Amnesty formally accused Israel of war crimes for attacking civilian infrastructure in Lebanon during the fighting. Despite the fact that during the four-week period, Hezbollah fired 3,900 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, killing 44 Israeli civilians and wounding 1,400, Amnesty refused to condemn Hezbollah. Even when Hezbollah cynically used human shields in Lebanon (in violation of international law) by embedding their fighters in civilian population centers, Amnesty’s criticism remained one-sided, directed at the Jewish state.
    Prominent legal scholars at the time criticized Amnesty International’s sloppy use of legal terms. Accusing Amnesty of being in a “race to the bottom” in criticizing Israel, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz called Amnesty’s definition of war crimes “idiosyncratic” and not reflective of international law. Amnesty’s main criteria of calling something a war crime seems to be anything Israel does. David Bernstein, a Law Professor at George Mason University, observed that Amnesty’s criticisms of Israel’s use of force “has nothing to do with human rights or war crimes, and a lot to do with a pacifist attitude that seeks to make war, regardless of the justification for it or the restraint in prosecuting it…an international ‘crime’.”
    After Israel responded to mortar attacks on Israeli civilians in 2009 from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Amnesty issued a report accusing Israel of war crimes: the 127-page report minimized Hamas’ violations of international law, and accused ignored eyewitness accounts that Hamas had used human shields.
    That year, Amnesty sent its internal documents to the International Criminal Court, for use in case that body brought charges against the Jewish state. Amnesty also started calling for an international arms embargo against Israel, citing Israel’s supposed status as “a grave violator of human rights”.
    Anti-Israel Intensification
    Despite defending its impartiality, Amnesty’s anti-Israel obsession has intensified. Director of Amnesty International Finland, Frank Johansson, called Israel a “scum state” on his blog in August 2010. Amnesty International Australia has had to repeatedly apologize after highly anti-Semitic posts (some praising Hitler, calling Jews cancer, and calling for death to Jews) have been allowed onto its Facebook page. In 2013 Amnesty awarded its Ambassador of Conscience award to Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd musician who tirelessly calls for boycotting the Jewish state and features a giant inflatable pig wearing a Star of David in his shows.
    When Amnesty Campaign Manager Krystian Benedict was asked in 2010 if he would support an event drawing attention to kidnapped Israeli private Gilad Shalit, he responded only if “thousands of Palestinian prisoners” were included as well. Mr. Benedict later told a journalist “Israel is now included in the list of stupid dictatorial regimes who abuse people’s basic human rights – along with Burma, North Korea, Iran and Sudan, it’s government has the same wanton attitude to human beings.” Mr. Benedict was temporarily suspended from Amnesty for posting a joke about Jewish members of Britain’s parliament on Twitter, but was soon reinstated. On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, after Israeli objections to Amnesty’s latest biased report, he Tweeted that Israel is equivalent to the vicious terror group ISIS.
    This obsession with Israel and Jews – and sympathy with those who wish to harm them – is reflected in staffing choices at Amnesty International. One Middle East Researcher, Saleh Hijazi, was previously the contact for a political organization called “Another Voice,” whose slogan was “Resist! Boycott! We Are Intifada!” British-based Amnesty researcher Deborah Hyams volunteered as a “human shield” near Bethlehem, preventing Israeli military responses to gunfire and rockets aimed at civilians in nearby Jerusalem. Amnesty’s American-based Israel researcher, Edith Garwood, used to be a member of the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement. Rasha Abdul-Rahim, a fourth member of Amnesty’s research unit, describes herself as “a ranty Palestinian activist” on Twitter.
    In 2010, Gita Saghal, the head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit was fired after she criticized Amnesty’s close links with Cageprisoners, a British Muslim extremist group whose leader defends violent jihad and the Taliban; she accused Amnesty of “ideological bankruptcy” and said an “atmosphere of terror” prevails inside Amnesty International, where staff cannot question leaders’ ideological views.
    Amnesty’s latest report – and its offensive jokes and Tweets about the Jewish state – betray an unhealthy obsession and hatred of Israel. It’s time the world woke up to the sad fact that this once-laudable organization no longer has any moral standing, and ignore its pronouncements.