After being attached to poles in Ithaca Commons for over a week, posters about the hostages taken by Hamas have been removed after they were vandalized with anti-Israel remarks.
In the weeks since Hamas took about 240 people hostage on Oct. 7, red and white posters displaying the word “KIDNAPPED” in large block letters have become ubiquitous in cities and college campuses around the world. These posters were designed in New York City by Israeli street artist Nitzan Mintz and her partner Dede Bandaid as an effort to support Israel from thousands of miles away. Their official website describes the posters as a piece of “guerilla public artwork” and encourages supporters to “place as many posters as possible in the public space.”
Several posters bringing awareness to Hamas holding individuals hostage were hung on every pole in the Commons on Nov. 13. The next day, all of the posters on Ithaca Commons had been removed, and small, damp, red and white pieces of paper laid on the ground next to where the posters once were.
Chapter 272 of The City of Ithaca’s code prohibits the posting of “temporary signs” — like the “KIDNAPPED” posters — in public spaces without a permit from the city. The Sun was unable to independently confirm whether or not the city granted a permit for the posters and whether or not the city was involved in their removal.
Some members of the business community said they disliked that the posters were placed in a public space. Lou Cassaniti, owner of Lou’s Street Food, said he disapproved of their being posted without city permission.
“I’m against it only because it doesn’t look good. I’m not against the idea — I’m against what the controversy is going to cause about whether you can do it or not,” Cassaniti said. “Some people feel they can do it because it’s their right to do it, but the Commons is owned by the city. You can’t come to my house and put posters on my house.”
Prior to the Commons being cleared of posters entirely on Nov. 14, individuals had been attempting to remove them themselves — often leaving large chunks of ripped paper attached to the poles. Several people working at stores in Ithaca Commons said they observed people taking the posters down in this way before Nov. 14. Alli Streeter, a retail assistant at a store on the Commons, said she was upset when she saw someone ripping down the posters.
“I wish I was brave enough to confront them, but I feel like that’s dangerous sometimes,” Streeter said. “I just think it’s a really unfortunate way to speak your mind by hurting someone else or ruining someone else’s project.”
Zoe Bernstein ’24, president of Cornellians for Israel, said that the posters were an important way to spread awareness about the hostages. Many students in Cornellians for Israel have put up “KIDNAPPED” posters on Cornell’s campus, and Bernstein said that she was distressed by the backlash against them.
“These are innocent people who were just kidnapped. I don’t think that’s a very political ask to have them returned, but apparently it’s become one, as we’ve seen so many people ripping them down,” Bernstein said.
However, some students have expressed a different opinion about the posters’ political implications in certain contexts. At a die-in protest for Palestine on Nov. 9, some students not participating in the protest brought “KIDNAPPED” posters to raise awareness of the hostage crisis. A postscript about the event from Cornell’s Coalition for Mutual Liberation, which describes itself as a “broad based coalition of solidarity” that is in support of Palestinian liberation, cited the use of images of the hostages as an “intimidation tactic.”
Some ideological opponents to the posters in both the Commons and Cornell went further than just attempting to remove them, covering them with pro-Palestine posters and writing over them with anti-Israel remarks. Bernstein said that at Cornell, she encountered a poster near Sibley Hall with “#Free Palestine” written over it in pencil.
On the Commons, one piece of graffiti called the hostages “Zionist scum.” Another read “Israel is Hitler.” The graffiti was removed at around the same time that the posters were removed.
Deirdre Kurzweil, the owner of Sunny Days of Ithaca — whose storefront was tagged with antisemitic symbols in October 2020 — said that she wrote to the city to have the posters removed, not because of their ideas but because of the controversy they incited.
Kurzweil said that the city responded to her, saying that because of the way the posters were attached to the poles, they were difficult to remove.
Despite numerous attempts, both the city and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance were unavailable for comment.
Across the country, the “KIDNAPPED” posters and the response to them have sparked hostility between those on different sides of the conflict. At Columbia, a student was arrested for allegedly assaulting another student during an argument over the posters, and a Miami dentist was fired after being filmed tearing posters down.
Kurzweil said that the posters and the backlash against them are unproductive ways for Ithaca as a community to have difficult conversations about the Israel-Hamas war.
“There’s a reason why we don’t allow anyone to put up random posters — it’s not allowed. This is just too controversial, [and] it’s not the right way to have the dialogue,” Kurzweil said. “It invites what has now subsequently happened, which is people putting posters over the hostage posters and making it even more contentious. It’s a really hard conversation. There’s no easy answer, but this is just triggering and disturbing.”