Antisemitic graffiti at University of Tennessee blames Jews for 9/11

"Jews did 9-11. Google: Dancing Israelis" read the graffiti on The Rock, a massive stone on the UTK campus on which individuals or groups often paint opinions or congratulations.

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September 15, 2019 07:27
4 minute read.
University of Tennessee Knoxville - The Hill

University of Tennessee Knoxville - The Hill. (photo credit: TN 66/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Antisemitic graffiti on a landmark at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville (UTK), blaming Jews for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sparked outrage among students on Thursday.

"Jews did 9-11. Google: Dancing Israelis," read the graffiti on The Rock, a massive stone on the UTK campus on which individuals or groups often paint opinions or congratulations, among other messages.

"We are sick and tired of University of Tennessee constantly doing nothing to address this," wrote the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity on their Facebook page. "This happens time and time again and all the university has said is 'this is unacceptable.'"

Alpha Epsilon Pi is a Jewish college fraternity that operates chapters on over 190 college campuses in seven countries, according to the fraternity's website.




The fraternity later clarified that they were not blaming the UTK administration in "any shape, way or form."

"We were just asking for a more effective response from the University this time around, since this is not the first occurrence," wrote Alpha Epsilon Pi in an addition to their Facebook post. "As of now, the University has been working closely with AEP, Hillel, and other Jewish students/organizations to address this issue."

While the fraternity felt that UTK had "glossed over" similar incidents in the past, "the University has been diligent and proactive in addressing this one."

Parker Alperin, president of the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter at UTK, explained that the graffiti is not reflective of the University of Tennessee's student population.

"There are few large campus[es] that don’t face this," explained Parker on Facebook. "This is not unique to ours. We just happen to have a large and popular forum for speech in The Rock, so it receives a lot more publicity. Antisemitism is not something Jewish students face on a daily basis. It is a largely welcoming community and to paint it otherwise is terribly dishonest."

The fraternity also reassured parents that UTK isn't home to a hateful environment.

"The overwhelming outpouring of support we have received from the community demonstrates that UTK does not breed a hateful environment," wrote the fraternity on Facebook. "The vast majority of students, faculty, and staff here at UTK has done nothing but be supportive, kind, and accepting. This hateful event should not be the reason Jews disappear from this campus. One individual does not and should not have the power to make others feel unwelcome and unsafe. Vol (short for 'Volunteers,' the name of the university's sports teams) means all, and we stand by this."

Earlier last week, The Rock was painted with a design in support of a fourth-grade boy from Florida who was bullied over his homemade shirt supporting the University of Tennessee, according to Knox News. The design was based on the shirt made by the boy. The antisemitic graffiti covered up the design.

"In one week, the Rock has brought out the best and the worst," said UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman in a statement. "We celebrated the outpouring of love for the young Volunteer who made his own T-shirt, and someone beautifully depicted the shirt on the Rock. Last night, someone covered that message of love with an antisemitic hate message. We condemn that hate aimed toward members of our Jewish community, and we understand that words are not enough."

"Vol is a verb. Being a Volunteer means taking action. We are seeking Volunteers to join us in uniting around how we respond to hate on the Rock. We want to work together to create a movement around what we want to be," added Plowman.

The chancellor stated that she would meet with the Jewish student community at UTK and expand the conversation to all "Vols" so "we can work together on an action plan."

"We will not let hate stop our drive to create a community that ensures the people behind our stories matter and belong," concluded Plowman.

A Knoxville local, Mara McJilton, posted a picture of The Rock on Friday showing that the graffiti had been covered with a new design and the statement, "Vol is a verb. I commit to being a verb."



“Instead of honoring the lives of those that were lost on that fateful day, someone chose to highlight hate,” said ADL Southeast Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman in a statement. “The Rock, which is meant to represent school pride and unification, has unfortunately, again, been used as a billboard for hate.”

According to ADL Southeast, this is at least the third time in the last year that the Rock has been defaced with antisemitic messages and/or symbols.

Last year, a painting on the Rock reading "Stronger than hate" was covered over with the statement "Stronger through hate," next to a swastika, according to the Algemeiner. Less than two weeks later, the Rock was painted with a large amount of swastikas and antisemitic messages. The incidents came shortly after the Jewish campus group Hillel held a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The University of Tennessee hosted the Dear World event last week, that "unites people through pictures in their distinct message-on-skin style" to celebrate "the stories of our community." This week, the university will host a United at the Table event, in which 500 students are invited to eat dinner together "to celebrate and promote UNITY within our diverse campus community."


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