10 bus shelter billboards advertising the University of California”s “Study in Israel” campaign were remade into “Boycott Israel” ads and placed around Berkeley and San Francisco in May.
Under the headline, “Boycott Israel? We boycott Israel because…”, one of the modified posters depicts students saying, “I believe in speaking out against racism. Israel”s entrenched system of racial discrimination & segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel is frighteningly similar to the former apartheid system in South Africa!” and “I believe that governments must be held accountable for their actions! Israel denies its responsibility for the waves of ethnic cleansing that have made millions of Palestinians into refugees.”
The original ad campaign was financed by the pro-Israel publicity agency BlueStar PR as part of an intensive campaign to promote study in Israel at California universities. The University of California recently reinstated its study abroad program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, after years of lobbying from pro-Israel students and professionals. The program was suspended seven years ago based on concerns that the area was too dangerous.
“It”s ironic that the University of California has decided the area is less dangerous now than seven years ago, when 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli government in Gaza just four months ago,” said one of the creators of the alternative ad campaign, who prefers to remain anonymous. “2009 has already been the deadliest year for Palestinians since the Second Intifada began in September 2000.”
The Study in Israel billboards were carefully designed to appeal to the U.C. system”s multicultural student body. One featured a group including several Southeast Asians and another a woman in hijab (traditional Muslim headcovering), which creators of the alternative campaign consider extremely insulting.
“It”s outrageous to use images of Muslim women to promote the image of Israel as a tolerant society, when Palestinians are daily under attack for being Muslim,” said one of the artists. “During my time in the West Bank, I saw Israeli soldiers consciously degrade Muslim people by ordering women to remove their headscarves and men to pull up their shirts.”
The redesigned poster draws attention to Israel”s actions to prevent Palestinian students from getting an education. In this version, the women are saying, “I find it shocking that hundreds of Palestinian schools and kindergartens and at least eight universities have been shelled, shot at and invaded by the Israeli army, and dozens have been closed down and converted into barracks since September 2000,” and “I”m really angry that the so-called “separation wall” isolates and divides Palestinian population centers, cutting students off from their schools and literally bulldozing through educational institutions in its path.”
The posters ask members of the University of California community to pressure U.C. to respect the cultural and academic boycott initiated by Palestinian civil society in April 2004. The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel calls on the international academic community to pressure Israel to:
1. End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”
The U.S. Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has been joined by over 400 academics and cultural workers.
While the guerrilla ads list several websites for more information, including www.stopthewall.org, www.bdsmovement.net and www.whoprofits.org, no organization had any knowledge that the ads were being posted.