Jerusalem Art School Tightens Security After Racist Acts

As tensions rise in city, Bezalel Academy slams anti-Arab and anti-Jewish graffiti, vandalism while reaffirming freedom of expression.

Shany Littman
Shany Littman
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Bezalel’s Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shany Littman
Shany Littman

The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is tightening security following two incidents of a racist nature at the veteran Jerusalem school. The new security measures were announced in a letter sent Thursday to students by the academy's president, Prof. Eva Illouz, who also warned that disciplinary action would be taken if such incidents recurred.

In the first case, the words “price tag” were written on the desk of an Arab woman student. The second case took the form of a response to the work of a third-year student in visual communication.

Within the framework of a course on art and current events, the student filled a room at the academy with balloons in the colors of the Palestinian flag – green, black, red and white. In the center of the room she placed a stand with pins in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag, and invited the other students to burst the balloons using the blue and white pins.

In reaction, the right-wing news site, 0404 News, wrote: “Do you get it? We are the bombers, we are the attackers. We are the bad ones and they are the good onesSimply disgusting.”

The next day, a graduate of Bezalel who lives in a West Bank settlement spray-painted “death to Jews,” on a wall near the doorway of the room along with his phone number. Academy staff said the man wanted to define his graffiti as a “work of art.” The inscription was immediately removed and the man was summoned by the police for questioning. He was released shortly thereafter; no charges were brought.

“I would like to make clear in no uncertain terms that the Bezalel administration vehemently condemns extreme expressions and rudeness toward populations that are a part of the public in Israel, calls to violence, sedition and incitement to racism against any person,” Illouz wrote in a statement aimed at calming down the atmosphere.

“Any student, lecturer or employee of the academy who is found responsible for incitement, damage to property, verbal or physical threat or direct harm, will be brought up on disciplinary charges. We must all behave responsibly, show sensitivity, report any unusual incidents and not allow the extremist minority among us to drag us to violent escalation.”

Bezalel student union chairman Tomer Laszlo said in response to the incidents: “The Bezalel student union views freedom of expression as very important and artistic activity in keeping with the boundaries of democracy and the standards set by the academy as a supreme value. Nevertheless, the organization condemns any attempt at incitement and provocation that are not within the framework of artistic activity.”

Laszlo said there was a clear difference between the student’s work with the balloons and pins, which had a sharp political message, and the response to it. The art project was not a provocation, he said. It was created as part of an academic course.

“The graffiti exceeded these boundaries because its goal is to incite and provoke, and we want to convey that there is still a sane majority in Jerusalem,” he added.

Laszlo said that the day after the incident, and with the permission of the head of the visual communication department, students filled a room with blue and white balloons, which he called “an example of a response within the boundaries of the [accepted] debate.”

Referring to recent violence in Jerusalem, Laszlo noted that “the atmosphere was leaking into the walls of Bezalel,” and called on students to work to “maintain the legitimate framework of discourse.”

Laszlo also said that recently the feeling of personal safety in Jerusalem, particularly on Mount Scopus, where Bezalel is located, has been severely compromised, and the students have therefore asked for more security around the campus – for example, to be allowed to bring their cars into its premises in the evening.

Bezalel’s spokesman’s office told Haaretz that Bezalel students “enjoyed studies in a pluralistic place that encourages freedom of expression, and welcome references to social, cultural and political issues can be seen in their work. However, in the context of recent events in Jerusalem, there have been various remarks made at Bezalel as well that are not legitimate and compromise human dignity.”

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