Anti-Semitic graffiti at U.C. Santa Cruz &mdash and schools reaction &mdash sparks complaints

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A stain of graffiti equating Jews with the devil and blaming them for toppling the World Trade Center has had its intended effect — people are sad, angry and hurt.

The late-April vandalism at U.C. Santa Cruz apparently took just a few minutes to draw — and was quickly painted over by the school. Yet the administration’s response to anti-Jewish messages has come under fire, and the issue has lingered.

Both Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rick Zinman, the executive director of Santa Cruz Hillel, have credited the university for its response to the graffiti; Zinman went so far as to co-author a letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper with Pedro Castillo, the provost at Oakes College, where the graffiti was found.

“When an act of hateful vandalism occurs, the University needs to take immediate action to denounce such offensive activities and make sure that students feel safe on campus. We feel the University has done well on both counts,” reads the letter.

It continues: “Oakes College Provost Castillo issued a statement condemning the graffiti, the police were called in to investigate the incident, the wall was quickly painted over, and consultation with Hillel, the Jewish Student Resource Center, began almost immediately about how to best respond to this incident.”

Not everyone on campus is assuaged, however. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a longtime Hebrew lecturer at the university, is baffled by the lack of a response from the U.C. Santa Cruz chancellor’s office to the graffiti, a child-like drawing of the towers, split by a Star of David with a plane approaching from the right and the number 666 below.

When anti-black graffiti, a series of offensive statements using offensive terms, was discovered in a campus bathroom last year, she notes, Chancellor George Blumenthal issued a forceful condemnation — “it was superb,” said Rossman-Benjamin.

To date, however, letters from Rossman-Benjamin and others on and off campus requesting a similar denunciation from the chancellor have been returned with brief form emails from Ashish Sahni, an assistant chancellor. The emails all begin: “Chancellor Blumenthal shared your message with me and asked that I respond on his behalf.”

Said Rossman-Benjamin: “I think there is a definite double standard here. On the one hand, anti-African American graffiti and incidents having to do with other groups get responded to appropriately in a timely way.

“But when it has to do with Jews, it doesn’t get exposed. It’s painted over and forgotten.”

Indeed, j.’s own emails to Blumenthal resulted in a terse return note from Sahni (and began, “Chancellor Blumenthal shared your message with me and asked that I respond on his behalf.”).

Sahni also noted that j.’s query of whether Blumenthal himself is Jewish was “inappropriate … This is a personal matter.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.