Spate of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel vandalism in Berkeley

Just days after an unknown vandal or vandals hurled a cinder block through Berkeley Hillel's front door and scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on the center's recycling cans, Berkeley police are reporting three more vandalism incidents.

At the corner of Arch and Virginia streets in normally serene North Berkeley, "F— Israel," "We Fund Israeli Terror" and "Palestinian Blood on Our Hands" were spray-painted onto the sidewalk in black and red.

In the industrial neighborhood of Sixth and Gilman streets, "Kill Jew" was sprayed onto the side of a building.

And on College Avenue and Haste Street, the University Lutheran Chapel was defaced with a series of anti-Israel epithets.

"Free Palestine" and "F— Isreal" (sic) were sprayed onto the Haste Street wall of the church in large black letters, while another "Palestinian Blood on Our Hands" and a graphic resembling a bloody hand were sprayed onto the church's driveway.

All three of those recent incidents were reported to the Berkeley Police Department on April 4. Police have not yet determined if the same vandal or vandals are responsible for the identical "Palestinian Blood on Our Hands" tags, or why a church was targeted for pro-Palestinian graffiti.

"It might have been an organized effort, not just a single person," said Daniel Lev, the maggid (lay rabbi) of San Francisco's Keneset HaLev, a post-denominational Jewish group. After observing the graffiti in the church driveway, he noted that it "looked like a stencil. I'm an old hippie from the old days, and when we were doing political spray-paintings, a stencil worked really well. So it might have been an organized effort."

When Lev, a Berkeley resident, heard about the defacing of the church, he called up several other East Bay Jewish community leaders to help paint over the anti-Israel slogans. About a dozen Jews and church personnel participated in the cleanup effort last Friday.

"My emotional response is that I am terribly saddened this is happening here in Berkeley, in America," said Rabbi Stuart Kelman, who helped paint over the graffiti. The spiritual leader of Berkeley's Conservative Congregation Netivot Shalom is "very upset that things like this happen in a culture I would hope would be far more tolerant and compassionate. It saddens me to think that's not the case here."

While many are extremely concerned about a perceived rise in anti-Semitic or anti-Israel activities, Kelman said events like the defacing of the church are "a call [for Jews] to be much more cautious. It is not a call to arms."

Lev said church officials told him the anti-Israel graffiti was a first for the Lutheran church — which is frequently tagged with Satanic graffiti. Church representatives could not be reached by the Bulletin.

"It was nice to clean this off and paint it," said Lev. "People weren't wringing their hands. There was a lot of community support. It's not a huge thing, but in a small community like Berkeley, it's good for folks to get together and heal something. Even something moderately minor."

While Lev and the others were cleaning up the church, several motorists driving by shouted anti-Israel curses, with one driver calling the assembled Jews and Christians "murderers."

"We weren't sitting around badmouthing Palestinians," said Lev, a psychologist. "We just felt bad people would do all of this."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is a columnist at Mission Local. He is also former editor-at-large at San Francisco Magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.