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‘Kidnapped’ posters calling attention to Israeli hostages keep getting torn down

(New York Jewish Week) — The hundreds of flyers lining the walls of the Union Square subway station bore the faces of Israeli hostages, with the word “kidnapped” in bold letters above the photo and a plea to bring them home below.

“Entire Israeli family,” one of the pages said; “80-year-old Israeli grandfather,” read another. Others showed the faces of teenagers, a young couple or migrant workers, all missing and believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza. 

But some of the posters were also hard to make out. Within minutes or hours of going up, many of them had been partially ripped off the subway station’s walls, tears obscuring the victims’ faces or details about their lives, while others were defaced with marker or surrounded by messages such as “Free Palestine.” Others were removed because of city regulations.

This week, the walls of New York City’s subway stations, campus buildings and other public spaces — along with those of other cities across the globe — have been plastered with the posters, a grassroots campaign to raise awareness of the roughly 200 hostages Hamas captured in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The fast-spreading initiative has given an outlet to supporters of Israel abroad who feel frustrated by their inability to aid the war effort, and isolated by their distance from the fighting. 

But the posters have also become one more front in the battle for public opinion on the war — with opponents of Israel tearing down the posters, berating the activists and launching a counter-campaign highlighting Palestinian losses.

“We wanted to put the message out there. We wanted the world to know,” said one of the creators of the “Kidnapped From Israel” project, an Israeli street artist who goes by the nom de plume Dede Bandaid. “Every place they will tear them down, we will put up many, many more.”

An Israeli activist prepares to put up posters near New York City’s Union Square subway station, October 16, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Bandaid and his partner, Israeli artist Nitzan Mintz, were in New York on a three-month art residency when the war broke out. Within a day of Hamas’ attack, they decided to put their skills as street artists to use by designing and printing out the flyers. Initially, they printed 2,000 posters, taped them up around the city, and tried to enlist the help of passersby, most of whom dismissed the project.

“We felt that people don’t want to know the stories and it made us very sad,” Bandaid said. “We got home and we were very broken and we thought, ‘There’s no chance to make this project work.’”

They then posted a DropBox folder with the fliers on social media and collapsed into sleep. “When we woke up in the morning, our phones were just filled with photos and videos from people sharing what they were doing,” Bandaid said. “The whole city was filled with posters.”

The project spread online, overwhelming their DropBox capacity, so they set up a website where anyone could download the images, and began receiving requests for translations from abroad. There are now posters in more than a dozen languages, including Greek, Romanian, Finnish and Indonesian, and campaigners dispersing the posters in far-flung locations such as Paris, New Zealand and Prague. Bandaid estimates that around 1,000 activists took up the initiative in Berlin

Celebrities including Gal Gadot have gotten on board, posting the images on social media, while other campaigners have adapted the flyers and projected them onto the sides of buildings, put them on billboards or on digital truck displays in New York City and elsewhere. WhatsApp groups created earlier this year by Israeli expatriates to coordinate protests against Israel’s judicial overhaul now feature callouts to put up the posters.

“I feel like for me to start with this campaign, I needed that, not just for my own people but also for myself to feel to be part of a community,” said Israel artist Ronit Levin Delgado, who connected with Mintz through mutual friends in the art world. “For me as an Israeli, with all my family in Israel, that’s the only thing I can do right now because I cannot be there.”

Israeli artist Ronit Levin Delgado in New York City’s Union Square, October 16, 2023. (Luke Tress)

To obtain consent to use the photos, Bandaid and Mintz work with a designer in Israel, Tal Huber, who contacts the families of the hostages to obtain their pictures and identifying details. Around 100 of the 200 hostages are featured on the flyers. Some of the families have reached out to the artists, asking that their loved ones be included in the campaign. Others, after receiving notice that their loved ones were killed, have asked that their photos be removed.

“The idea of being kidnapped, the idea of wanting someone to have his freedom, I think it’s a very strong message and I think many people believe in that,” Bandaid said. “We just lit the match, but everyone took it to their own end.” 

Levin Delgado, who lost a friend from the artist community in the massacre of 260 people at an outdoor party, assembled with several dozen other activists, mostly Israelis, at Union Square to post the images in and around the subway station on Monday night. She said the group put up 2,000 posters in four hours, and part of their goal was to interact with passersby, some of whom stopped to ask about the project.

One young woman stopped on her way down to the station platform to ask Levin Delgado about the flyers. “They’re taking everyone, no mercy for anyone. Women, children,” Levin Delgado told her. “We just want to raise awareness and bring them back.”

The woman appeared sympathetic. “I heard about what’s going on, but I wasn’t sure specifically. I didn’t know about the hostages,” she said. “I’ll definitely share it. I’ll take a picture.”

But almost as soon as they went up — in some cases, within minutes — many of the posters were torn down, leaving glue marks and tattered paper on the station walls.

A torn poster about Israeli hostages surrounded by pro-Palestinian messages in New York City’s Union Square, October 16, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Levin Delgado noticed pro-Palestinian activists pasting messages around hostage flyers posted outside the station. The pro-Palestinian posters featured the Palestinian flag, or a photo of a Palestinian captioned with the words “Murdered” and “Stop the oppression.” The posters appeared to be an imitation of the Israeli fliers.

In some cases, someone had written “Free Palestine” in black marker on the Israeli hostage posters. Other fliers bore the image of a Palestinian-American boy killed in Illinois on Monday.

Levin Delgado confronted the pro-Palestinian activists, concerned they were removing the Israeli posters, and got into a heated exchange about the conflict.

“We have almost 2,000 that got murdered,” Levin Delgado said.

“We have millions over the last many years,” one of the pro-Palestinian activists said, a significant exaggeration of the Palestinian death toll throughout the history of the conflict. The pro-Palestinian activists declined to be interviewed by the New York Jewish Week.

Pro-Palestinian activists put up posters near New York City’s Union Square subway station, October 16, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Tensions stayed high, but the two sides finally agreed to leave each other’s posters alone. The verbal sparring continued, however, and minutes later, another passerby tore another Israeli hostage poster down and threatened to punch Levin Delgado when she addressed the incident.

Not all posters were removed for ideological reasons. Some came off subway station walls due to Metropolitan Transportation Authority policy, which bars putting unauthorized signs up on MTA property. An MTA spokesperson said staff remove any posters they see while making their rounds, and added that the fliers were allowed elsewhere. Activists have posted them on street light poles, walls and other public spaces.

Union Square isn’t the only place where the posters have sparked debate. At New York University, just blocks away, the campus group Students Supporting Israel posted photos online of the posters being thrown in the trash, and of people holding bunches of the crumpled, torn posters in their arms.

Ari Axelrod, an American Jewish actor, director and singer, said police had politely removed some of the fliers he helped put up at Columbus Circle on Monday. Axelrod had been leaving the roundabout’s subway station when he came across a group of Israelis and offered to join them. A pro-Palestinian activist then barged into the group and started tearing down the flyers, Axelrod said.

“This guy just comes up and says, ‘Put up all the faces of the Palestinian hostages of the past 75 years,’” Axelrod said. “He kept talking, saying, ‘You’re supporting genocide. You’re supporting ethnic cleansing.’”

The pro-Palestinian activist left the scene to summon police, who told the Israelis that the signs were not allowed on MTA property. One of the Israelis, who had put up the posters, asked that only police or MTA officers remove the flyers so they would not be “desecrated” by others.

“The cops were very understanding. ‘We get why you’re doing it, we understand, but it has to come down,’” Axelrod said, quoting the police. “The police said, ‘We’ll stand guard, we’ll leave it up for a little bit and make sure nobody else takes it down.’”

Axelrod said he watched the police as they surveyed the posters, reading the names and looking at the pictures.

“One of the police officers says, ‘Four years old. Jesus,’” before he started removing the posters, Axelrod said. 

The group of Israelis headed back up to the sidewalk, where the person who had directed the effort to hang the posters broke down in tears.

Back downtown, after clashing with rival activists, some of the Israelis kept hanging the posters. Levin Delgado, still toting a bag of flyers and glue, made a last lap around Union Square to check how many remained on the wall. At a staircase down to the subway, she was elated to find a row of posters nearly intact, but then noticed two freshly-drawn swastikas on the opposite white tile wall. She sprayed the hate symbols with glue and pasted an image of a kidnapped Israeli family on top.

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Jewish Comedian Michael Rapaport Announces Stand-Up Debut in Israel

Michael Rapaport. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Jewish-American actor and comedian Michael Rapaport announced that he will perform two full-length and live stand-up comedy shows in Israel for the first time ever in October.

He will be performing in Jerusalem on Oct. 13 at the Jerusalem Theatre and in Tel Aviv on Oct. 14 at the theater Beit HaHayal, he said in an Instagram post on Sunday. He added: “I’m so honored, I’m so excited & pray that all the hostages will be home by then & the country & people will be able to heal by October. Baruch Hashem.” Tickets are currently on sale for both shows.

Rapaport has been one of the most vocal supporters of Israel in Hollywood since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel. He has constantly advocated for the release of the hostages held captive by Hamas since Oct. 7 and joined hundreds of other entertainment industry figures in signing an open letter to US President Joe Biden calling for the immediate release of those still in captivity in Gaza.

Before Oct. 7, Rapaport had never visited Israel, but since the Hamas massacre, he has traveled to the Jewish state several times to visit families of hostages and speak at events for those who were abducted. He has also made guest appearances on the Israeli comedy satire show Eretz Nehederet. During one English-language skit on the show in late February, he pretended to host this year’s Academy Awards and commented on the hypocrisy of Hollywood stars for staying silent about the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

While speaking to The Jerusalem Post in May, Rapaport talked about his love for the people of Israel.

“They’ve been so used to being f—ked with: terrorism, intifadas, soldiers being killed, their fight to exist, and the need to explain their existence; it creates an incredible type of person. You don’t really understand it until you engage with them, and since Oct. 7, I’ve been so fortunate to engage with so many of them,” he said. “These two long trips I’ve been on [to Israel] have changed me as a Jew, as a New Yorker, and as a man. I can’t put my finger on it because it’s still happening right now. But one thing I know is that Israel will be a big part of my life going forward. I’m going to make up for lost time.”

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Anti-Israel Coalition at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Issues Threat to Jewish Community

Illustrative: Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

A coalition of anti-Zionist groups at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has issued an open threat to Jews who support Israel and Jewish organizations, promising to treat them as “extremist criminals.”

“We will no longer normalize genocidal extremists walking on our campus,” the group, which calls itself UWM Popular University for Palestine, posted on Instagram last week. “Any organization or entity that supports Israel is not welcome at UWM. This includes the local extremist groups such as Hillel, Jewish Federation, etc.”

Reiterating its first point, the group continued, “We refuse to normalize extremists and extremist groups walking around our campus. We are watching Israel’s legitimacy and international recognition fall to pieces on the world stage. Any organization that has not separated themselves from Israel will be treated accordingly as extremist criminals. Stay tuned.”

Photo: Screenshot

The statement has since been deleted, but it alarmed the local Jewish community, which interpreted the post as a declaration of violence to come.

“While we deeply believe in and support freedom of speech and freedom of expression, we believe this post could encourage harassment and violence towards Jewish students on campus as well as towards the staff of Hillel and the Jewish Federation,” said the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said in an email to the local community.

The federation said it alerted UWM police, Hillel leadership, and the FBI of the apparent threat.

The local district attorney, however, argued that UWM Popular University for Palestine’s comments are protected by the First Amendment, according to the federation.

“Our office is currently working with UWM Police to further investigate this matter,” Milwaukee County District Attorney Chief Deputy Kent Lovern told the Wisconsin Law Journal this week.

At the time of publication, the university is the only non-Jewish body that has appeared to denounce the anti-Israel group and condemn hate speech.

“UWM takes this post seriously and recognizes that the language in it, if acted upon, would undermine the safety of the UWM community, especially Jewish individuals and organizations,” the university said in a statement. “Where speech is not protected by the First Amendment, UWM will address it through appropriate processes, which could include student and student organization disciplinary processes. While hateful or intimidating speech is legally protected, it conflicts with the respect and conduct we ask of each member of our community.”

UWM also said it “strongly denounces these statements and denounces any form of antisemitism, and we will be actively monitoring campus as a result.”

However, the school’s responses to antisemitism on the campus have been mixed since the Palestinian terror group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, emboldening the radical anti-Zionist groups which operate there according to a paper by UWM political science professor Shale Horowitz.

Published earlier this month, the paper — titled, “The Campus War against Israel: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — argues that the administration was first to countenance violence and discrimination against Jews when it issued a statement about the Oct. 7 onslaught “without naming Hamas as the aggressor.” Until this week, Horowitz argued, he school had refused to address antisemitism as a stand-alone issue, denouncing both “antisemitism and Islamophobia” despite there having been little evidence of the latter and many instances of the former, including an incident in which an anti-Zionist mob descended on a Hillel event calling for “intifada” and a “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

Later, after anti-Zionists commandeered a section of campus, setting up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the property, UWM chancellor Mark Mone praised protests against Israel as “history” unfolding “across the nation and the world.” Mone added, “I appreciate that the protests have remained peaceful and have not disrupted daily campus operations. And it is laudable that so many learning opportunities have been incorporated into life inside the encampment. This is a reflection of our campus community as a whole — and I salute the many instances of people coming together, discussing issues of the day, and welcoming the diverse people and opinions on our campus.”

Mone went on to endorse a litany of falsehoods about Israel in a statement announcing an agreement to end the encampment. Accepting the ideological premises of the anti-Zionist movement, he described Israel’s conduct in the war against Hamas as “genocide” and equated Hamas’ kidnapping women, children, and the elderly to Israel’s detaining of Palestinian terrorists, which Horowitz criticized for being a false equivalence and an implicit endorsement of terrorist violence.

“The systemic anti-Israel collusion of extremists and university bosses also has important implications for American Jews,” Horowitz concluded. “In Animal Farm, [George] Orwell explained where far-left ideologies lead. Some people and groups will inevitably be more equal than others, and those monopolizing power will decide which ones. For the far left, Jews are white Westerners, while Palestinian and other Muslims are non-white, non-Westerners, whose more radical segments are part of the anti-Western coalition.”

He added, “It doesn’t matter the the racial elements of this worldview are false and repugnant. The far left long ago classified as enemies Israel and Jews.”

Antisemitism in the US has surged to catastrophic and unprecedented levels, rising a harrowing 140 percent in 2023 — and exponentially so in the months after Oct. 7 — according to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual audit of hate incidents that targeted the Jewish community.

The ADL recorded 8,873 incidents last year — an average of 24 every day across the US, amounting to a year unlike any experienced by the American Jewish community since the organization began tracking such data on antisemitic outrages in 1979. Incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault all spiked by double and triple digits, with California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Massachusetts accounting for nearly half, or 48 percent, of all that occurred.

Breaking down the numbers, the ADL found a dramatic rise in the targeting of Jewish institutions such as synagogues, community centers, and schools, with 1,987 such incidents taking place in 2023 — a 237 percent increase which included over a thousand fake bomb threats, also known as “swattings.”

Other figures were equally staggering, with assaults and vandalism rising by 45 percent and 69 percent, respectively, while harassment soared by 184 percent. Antisemitic incidents on college campuses, which The Algemeiner has continued to cover extensively, rose 321 percent, disrupting the studies of Jewish students and leaving them uncertain about the fate of the American Jewish community.

“Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” ADL chief executive officer Jonathan Greenblatt said in April. “Jewish Americans are being targeted for who they are at school, at work, on the street, in Jewish institutions, and even at home.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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US ‘Strongly Opposes’ China-Brokered Deal to Form Palestinian Unity Government With Terrorist Groups

Mahmoud al-Aloul, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of Palestinian organization and political party Fatah, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, senior member of the Palestinian terror movement Hamas, attend an event at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 23, 2024. Photo: Pedro Pardo/Pool via REUTERS

The US on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” a Beijing-brokered declaration signed earlier in the day by the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah movement and the Hamas terror group, aimed at reconciling their longstanding divisions and establishing a unity government to manage Gaza after the war.

The declaration, which was also signed by more than a dozen other Palestinian factions, is seen as a symbolic win for China’s role as a global mediator, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi describing it as a “historic moment for the cause of Palestine’s liberation.” However, doubts linger about its effectiveness in addressing the years-long rift between the groups.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller responded to the announcement, saying Hamas had “blood on its hands, of Israelis and of Palestinians,” and could not be in any leadership role.

“When it comes to governance of Gaza at the end of the conflict, there can’t be a role for a terrorist organization,” Miller said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) — which currently exercises limited self-governance in the West and has long been riddled with allegations of corruption and authoritarianism — should be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza, Miller said, adding that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), unlike Hamas, had renounced terrorism.

The PLO is a coalition of Palestinian factions, including Fatah.

“If you look at the death and destruction that Hamas’ decision to launch the attacks of Oct. 7 has brought on Gaza, they have — there’s no one that has brought more pain and suffering to the people in Gaza than Hamas through their decisions — first to launch the attacks of Oct. 7, and then their ongoing decision, which continues today, to hide among civilian communities and use civilians as human shields.”

Miller also addressed China’s role in the mediation, saying that the US has generally encouraged China to leverage its influence with regional countries, especially those where the US has less sway, to prevent conflict escalation. One example was the Chinese-mediated deal last year restoring ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The US also urged China to discourage both Iran from financing proxies attacking Israel and the Houthis from targeting commercial shipping. “We have asked China to use its influence to try to bring those attacks to an end, and we’ll continue to do that,” Miller said.

Tuvia Gering, a China and Middle East analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, said the move is part of China’s effort to rival the US by building alliances with developing nations as well as the Arab and Muslim world to prioritize its interests and stifle Western dominance.

China is “challenging America in every space possible as a new type of major power that takes in the considerations of the Global South and the coalitions of those oppressed by imperialism and Western hegemony” to create “a new global order,” he told The Algemeiner.

Gering condemned Beijing’s move, saying it “normalized terrorism” and will embolden the Palestinians into further intransigence in talks for any future peace accord.

“Until today, China failed to criticize [the Palestinians] and put all the onus onto Israel. This means effectively that the Palestinians will only adhere to the most maximalist positions in negotiations for the two state solution [which] will become even more of a distant reality,” Gering told The Algemeiner.

Gering also predicted that the “golden age” of China-Israel relations, which burgeoned over the last decade with the inking of major bilateral deals, was over because of China’s decision to “legitimize terror” since Oct. 7. Gering warned that moving forward, Israeli strategy in the region must also take China into account.

Gering expressed doubts that the declaration signed on Tuesday would lead to any major developments, noting “a large amount of skepticism” in the Arab world.

Indeed, the declaration gave no outline for how or when a new unity Palestinian government would be formed.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which was also a signatory on the declaration, issued a statement later in the day outlining its demand for all factions in any future unity government to reject recognition of Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz blasted the agreement, saying it underscored Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ embrace of “the murderers and rapists” of Hamas, which rules Gaza.

“In reality, this won’t happen because Hamas’ rule will be crushed, and Abbas will be watching Gaza from afar. Israel’s security will remain solely in Israel’s hands,” Katz said.

In his statement, Wang reiterated China’s commitment to a “comprehensive, lasting, and sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza and advocated for an “international peace conference” aimed at pursuing a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dina Lisnyansky, an expert in Middle East affairs and Islam, warned that while the deal may not come to fruition, China’s role is of growing concern for Israel. Egypt and Algeria — both mediators in failed past attempts at rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas — were far weaker than China as regional actors. “When China sets its sights on something it usually achieves its goals, so it should worry us greatly,” Lisnyansky told The Algemeiner.

Lisnyansky also said that Israel should sanction the PA for signing the declaration. “Israel should negate any entity that has any ties at all to Hamas, which needs to lose both its authority and legitimacy.”

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