A campaign in Berkeley paid for by the group Accuracy in Media showed Hitler raising his arm in a salute displayed on the sides of a truck.  (Photo/Courtesy JewBelong)
A campaign in Berkeley paid for by the group Accuracy in Media showed Hitler raising his arm in a salute displayed on the sides of a truck. (Photo/Courtesy JewBelong)

Hitler truck display at UC Berkeley alarms Jews in campus community

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A provocative ad campaign against antisemitism that used a digital image of Hitler raising his right arm concerned many at UC Berkeley this week and disturbed members of the Jewish community, according to the campus Hillel.

It also sparked ire. On Thursday, vandals threw several rocks at the vehicle, according to an organizer of the campaign, scaring its driver and damaging the truck and “part of the graphic,” the organizer said. In photos, a green patch on the display is visible where one of the rocks hit.

The Washington, D.C.-based conservative nonprofit Accuracy in Media sponsored the campaign, which was meant to oppose what the organization described as Berkeley Law’s “ban on Jews.” The campaign launched after a group of law students passed pro-BDS resolutions in August that included bans on hosting speakers who support Israel.

The truck said: “All in favor of banning Jews, raise your right hand.”

The BDS measures, which J. covered at the time, concerned Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, but were thrust into the national spotlight more recently after an op-ed in the Jewish Journal in L.A. used Nazi language to describe them. “Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones,” in which attorney Kenneth J. Marcus argued that the bylaws were plainly discriminatory against Jews and represented civil rights violations, gained the attention of the national and Israeli media and was shared by prominent figures such as Barbra Streisand and Sarah Silverman to millions of Twitter followers.

The op-ed also prompted rebuttals, including from Jewish UC Berkeley professors Ethan Katz and Ron Hassner, who criticized the headline as misleading considering Berkeley’s robust Jewish community and Israel scholarship, and from Jewish journalist Rob Eshman who called the article “factual dross.”

The truck scared the crap out of us.

The mobile ad campaign consisted of a black box truck bearing digital images of a uniformed Hitler alongside other Nazis. It had been parked in front of Berkeley Law, according to Accuracy in Media president Adam Guillette, but then circled the campus after the rock-throwing incident.

The impetus behind the campaign, Guillette said, was outrage over a rise in antisemitism on college campuses.

“Things have gone from ‘very bad’ to ‘even worse,’” he wrote to J. in a text message from an airplane, saying he had met with “thousands of students on literally hundreds of campuses throughout North America over the last two decades.”

“The amount of hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism is morally outrageous and it’s time for us to (non-violently) fight back,” he wrote.

As to criticism that the campaign was disturbing, Guillette said, “the growing anti-semitic climate on America’s universities is exceptionally disturbing, and it’s time we stood up to these hateful bullies.”

Reporting about $2 million in annual revenue, Accuracy in Media is a group “working to expose bias in mainstream” media, according to its website. It publishes investigations exposing what it views as a media slant toward progressivism on issues ranging from abortion to gender to critical race theory.

A campaign in Berkeley paid for by the group Accuracy in Media showed Hitler raising his arm in a salute displayed on the sides of a truck. (Photo/Courtesy Accuracy In Media)
The truck made several stops around Berkeley. (Photo/Courtesy Accuracy In Media)

Guillette, though, rejected the characterization “right wing” or even “conservative” to describe his group, saying AIM is a “freedom-oriented organization with staffers from a variety of ideologies and political parties.” It describes itself as being “on the forefront of the culture wars.”

A one-time political activist who launched the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Guillette has experience capturing media attention — he was formerly a vice president at Project Veritas, an influential and highly controversial right-wing organization known for surreptitiously recording and publishing interviews with liberal activists to generate negative publicity for progressive causes.

While AIM’s campaign garnered some approval on social media from those outraged at the Berkeley Law groups’ Zionist bans, it received pushback from a number of Jewish community members including leadership of the Berkeley campus Hillel.

Some said they were shocked and disturbed by the images of Hitler, or could not discern what their political angle was.

“Saw this bus on my morning run,” UC Berkeley student Grace Stewart wrote on Instagram. “Very scary.”

The San Francisco office of the Anti-Defamation League decried the campaign in a tweet, even as it said it opposes efforts by Berkeley Law groups to ban Zionist speakers.

“The addition of more antisemitism, like using Hitler imagery to score cheap rhetoric points, only trivializes the memories of the six million,” the ADL wrote.

Berkeley Hillel released a statement offering support to students who had seen the images, saying staff were on hand to talk “24/7.”

“We know some of you may have seen a truck driving around campus this morning with a disturbing image prominently displayed,” the group wrote in an Instagram post. “Berkeley Hillel rejects antisemitism of any kind, and in all its forms. We also reject subjecting Jewish students to additional fear and trauma.”

“During the season of Sukkot, a time of joy and celebration, we are saddened that students are having to confront such ugly images,” the statement said.

The box truck campaign was just the beginning of a larger effort from Accuracy in Media, leadership said, to oppose antisemitism including with geo-targeted digital ads.

“This will be a long, long campaign,” Guillette said.

At Berkeley this week, in the midst of ongoing news and social media attention on the anti-Zionist bylaws (coverage that has exasperated the law school dean, a progressive Zionist himself), the AIM truck was but one of a few campaigns on campus to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

On Thursday, the pro-Israel activist and actress Noa Tishby visited Sproul Plaza to speak with students, attracting some protests by pro-Palestinian students.

Also this week, the Jewish-run nonprofit JewBelong, which combats antisemitism with cheeky billboards and viral messaging, parked one of its box trucks outside the Berkeley Hillel. The bright pink truck is part of a campaign targeting Bay Area universities and well-frequented sites with messages opposing antisemitism. It said: “We’re just 75 years since the gas chambers. So no, a billboard calling out Jew hate isn’t an overreaction.”

JewBelong had nothing to do with the AIM truck, co-founder Archie Gottesman said. “The truck scared the crap out of us,” she added.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.