Graffiti artists are disgusted by the antisemitic and racist graffiti springing up across college and university campuses in the United States, and have formed a rapid response team to combat the problem through art.
Despite the recent surge in BDS efforts, Artists 4 Israel (A4I) has grown exponentially over the last 10 years showing that Israel’s support of the arts and free speech is recognized and having a significant impact. Artists 4 Israel now represents more than 8,000 artists from 26 different countries who are united to overcome bigotry against Israel, the Jews or any other persecuted group. The recent rash of scrawled hate speech and depictions of swastikas is particularly upsetting to urban artists.
“Hate has no place in graffiti and I refuse to let anyone disrespect my chosen art form for such terrible purposes” says Shayne Tuthill, an artist who joined A4I on a mission painting memorials to slain IDF soldiers in Israel. Shayne and others under the coordination of Artists 4 Israel have offered to reclaim the name of street art and defend against the bigots and vandals.
Swastikas and other hateful symbols have been found most recently on the American Federation of Teachers building. This follows incidents at Columbia University, Duke University, Goucher, Cornell, Pomona, UC Davis and far too many other colleges and universities.
Graffiti and street art can and should unite people and beautify communities. Since its inception, Artists 4 Israel has found that to be a core value of most graffiti artists. Originally focusing only on advocacy initiatives in New York City, it was the artists themselves who suggested traveling to Israel to paint over the bomb shelters in Sderot. There, artists from around the world gathered to heroically dodge rockets and defy a war to create murals across the city. When finished, bomb shelters, those distressing reminders of danger, were transformed into an outdoor art gallery that soothed the populace and has become a tourist site that lasts to this day. The artists received the Key to the City of Sderot for their efforts as well as thousands of hugs, kisses and heartfelt thanks from the local community.
At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, A4I brought muralists to take a stand for peace by covering racist graffiti from Syrian forces with the message ”Art Over Hate.” These messages were sometimes quick “tags” and at other times written large across whole abandoned building like a hospital in Quneitra. Other hateful slogans were found – and immediately covered – on former United Nation outposts and long defeated Syrian tanks and barracks that stood deserted. A4I’s international team of public art makers who stood in the face of war to paint a positive message were treated with great gratitude by those who had been the target of the antisemitic taunting.
Similarly, on the border of Lebanon in Shtula – the very spot where, this week, terror tunnels were just discovered that would have allowed terrorist incursions into Israel – Artists 4 Israel transformed a security fence into the world’s longest display of outdoor art. These artists came from Japan, France, the United Kingdom, South Africa, the United States, Israel and a Native American reservation to paint a hopeful picture. The local community had told them how the towering wall meant to protect them from Lebanese cross-border attacks, snipers and other terrorists turned the entire community into one dark, foreboding, fearful neighborhood. Artists 4 Israel’s international team transformed this Israeli town living inside an artificial shadow into a beacon of art, beauty and light.
This is the true power of graffiti art, not the sick corruption that is popping up on US campuses and needs to be fought as hard as it has been on the borders of war zones. Despite the messages of hate, Israel is not alone. Time and again, graffiti artists have jumped at the chance to use their talents to help bring peaceful public, pro-Israel art displays, often in the face of great danger, to countries and communities poisoned by anti-Israelism and antisemitism.
And supporting Israel naturally leads to bringing the values of tolerance and free artistic expression to other parts of the world. In Indonesia, South Africa, London, and others locations, artists affiliated with Artists 4 Israel have grown more numerous each year being joined by locals who are carrying on the fight long after the international artists depart. Even in places where swastikas and hate have been found in abundance, they prove no match for paint and passion. As close as Boston, Massachusetts, a masked and unknown graffitist sent a video of himself dissing the Nazi symbol found scribbled on a wall near Boston University and claiming allegiance to the mission to overcome hate with art.
Despite recent headlines, graffiti have overall been a force that has helped the reputation of Israel around the world and proved a potent counter against preconceived bias. Hundreds of millions of young, progressive followers have watched the work of their favorite artists in Israel. This has stamped the country as a bastion of art and culture. It allows fans to see the country through the eyes of their chosen influencers and to get a realistic perspective on a nation so often lied about.
Now, that same strategy must be applied within the United States, especially on college campuses. BDS continues to poison so many young minds. Yes, at times artists have been unwitting accomplices to what really amounts to antisemitism, but the ever expanding influence of artists like those who work with A4I have actually made urban street art one of the art forms least likely to take up the BDS cause.
Support for Israel through art satisfies the best parts of artist’ souls – to help “the other,” to uplift, empower, inspire and heal. This affects not only communities, but it can help heal the divisiveness between individuals. This has proven true even from those who once might have used their skills to spread hate. They now sow peace.
When artists come together to create social change and experience Israel for themselves, it has the power to affect the whole region and shares a more complete picture of Israel and the Jewish people with the world. Beauty is one of the few forces with real power to change perceptions and overcome hate.
Just consider the American-born artists returning from Israel after trips with Artists 4 Israel. They invariably choose to fight for a better future within the United States, as well. It is time to bring that power to bear on campus and Artists 4 Israel is ready to respond to any defacement. As graffiti star Pariz One of Portugal says, “Hate is no match for art!”
Artists 4 Israel will soon paint over rocket-scarred buildings and on bomb shelters in Ashkelon, with artists from the US, China, Greece, South Africa and Hungary. Any school or community affected by antisemitic or other racist graffiti is encouraged to contact the non-profit Artists 4 Israel (firstname.lastname@example.org) who has teams of artists standing by to bring a a free painting program to cover the hateful vandalism with true art. A team of top street artists is standing by to transform racist graffiti into images that promote peace and healing for all people. Craig Dershowitz is president of the non-profit, Artists 4 Israel
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