Dear “F*ck Israel” Graffiti Artist,
I believe in the power of free speech: that everyone should have their voice heard. It’s our most profound tool for social change and a privilege of living in America.
As we all well know, it’s been a tense week on campus. Most recently because of the Jew-threatening hate posts that have been referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The eyes of the country are upon our school, with national press coverage building. With the growing tensions across campuses like ours, both Israeli and Palestinian groups have professed their views in different ways, and sometimes worked to intimidate in the process. Your “Fuck Israel” graffiti grabbed my attention in particular. Not because I saw it on a discussion board, but because I saw it in person.
So, I wanted you to know that your words, just like the online threats, are not free speech — they are nothing but vandalism. They dig you into a hole that’s difficult to escape. And instead of furthering your cause, they alienate the allies you need to convince.
I want you to know, as I wrote in my column two weeks ago, I have empathy for the human cost of the crippling crisis in Gaza and believe that no non-combatant should ever have to endure what is happening there. Like those supporting the Palestinian cause, or those simply mourning the lives of the innocent, I would be enraged. I would be filled with angst and helplessness. I would rally just like you. What I wouldn’t do, though, is vandalize the Cornell campus. Here’s why.
Your actions are against the law, likely fourth degree criminal mischief here in New York. You’re not committing a massive crime, but it’s still illegal; causing the property damage I saw atop the slope is not within your rights. You should scream as loud as you can. You should use megaphones and drums and air horns as you march across campus and interrupt classes.
In fact, on Wednesday afternoon, your campus protests drowned out my Global Studies class in Goldwin Smith Hall, and I couldn’t do anything but applaud you. My peers stood up, ignored the class content, and flocked to the windows to watch you march.
That brought valuable attention to your cause. Breaking the law and spray-painting profanity on Cornell sidewalks, however, didn’t. Crews had to stay up late that night, sweat as they poured hot asphalt over your words and take the time they should be spending with their families to clean up your mess.
Breaking the law and spray-painting profanity on sidewalks doesn’t advance your cause. It dilutes your message. Yes, you’ve drawn press coverage, but not the kind you need. I read the New York Post article about your graffiti. But not once throughout the sensationalizing piece did it mention your grievances or what you’re trying to accomplish. It talked about the profanity, the timing of the incident and who had to clean it up.
Don’t you want a national paper to amplify the pain you’re feeling? Don’t you want them to tell the world that you have something significant to say?
If I were you, I’d want news coverage that helps my cause, not one that brands me as a criminal. You buried the lede: and the Post couldn’t have cared less about your message.
By being incendiary instead of collaborative you’re alienating the people who need to hear you most. Over the last week, five of my Jewish family members reached out to ask me if I’m safe and to voice their concern over the “unrest” happening on our campus. I told them all the same thing: Nothing is unordinary here and I feel safe.
When you broke the law and stepped over the line of free speech, those family members, many of them deep supporters of Israel, missed your message. Their vision was obscured by the smokescreen of your law-breaking instead of hearing what you have to say. What they saw were dangerous vandals instead of people in pain.
These are the people you want to hear you. You want Jews, Israel supporters and the whole world to empathize with you. You want them to open their minds, change their thinking and understand what’s happening to your people. But instead, they’re just concerned with my safety. You didn’t make them see you; you pushed them further away. That is a shame.
I hear you. I feel for you. I want you to interrupt my class and protest through campus. I want you to scream through your megaphones about the pain you feel, the injustice you see. I want other people, especially the people you disagree with, to hear your message too.
But you can’t fully accomplish that when you break the law and spray paint your rage. Build dialogue, don’t break it down. When anger boils over, it’s hard to quell the tide of emotion.
Henry Schechter is a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. His fortnightly column Onward focuses on politics, social issues and how they come to bear in Ithaca. He can be reached at [email protected].
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