Graffiti calling for violence against Israelis and praising the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist operation that killed over a thousand civilians has hit San Francisco and Berkeley, heightening tensions locally following the Hamas massacre in southern Israel and the subsequent bombing campaign in Gaza.
On Saturday, hours after the start of a massive pro-Palestinian rally and march with thousands of demonstrators in downtown San Francisco, a police officer noticed graffiti spray-painted “on several buildings,” a statement from SFPD spokesperson Gonee Sepulveda said. The graffiti “appeared to be prejudice based” and “targeting people of Jewish descent,” according to the statement, which also said the vandalism was spotted near the 600 block of Market Street at 3:07 p.m.
Images published on social media Saturday night showed violent messages in red spray paint on street-facing windows and building exteriors downtown. The graffiti read “Death 2 Israel,” “Death to Zionism” and “Kill a settler.”
This is ok in SF today (Market St) pic.twitter.com/54XpoYbR3H
— Iris Gelles (@GellesIris) October 15, 2023
Rafi Brinner, a security expert with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, wrote in a “threat outlook” advisory email on Monday morning that local and federal agencies are monitoring potential threats to the Jewish community. Brinner said that the violence in Israel has “ratcheted up our community’s threat perceptions” and contributed to a sense of fear and anxiety. However, he added, “there is no broad reason why [Jewish community] organizations should not remain open and active, with appropriate security protocols and measures in place.”
S.F. Mayor London Breed published a photo of the “Death 2 Israel” graffiti along with a statement condemning what she called “disgusting calls to violence” and noting that police are investigating. Breed said the public works department worked overnight to clean up the graffiti.
I support peaceful protests but on Saturday protestors vandalized buildings with disgusting calls to violence. @SFPD continues to investigate this situation, and I’m grateful for the @sfpublicworks crews that worked overnight to immediately clean up this hateful graffiti. pic.twitter.com/sk20U2YeDi
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) October 16, 2023
The “All Out for Gaza” protest in S.F., co-organized by the Berkeley-based Middle East Children’s Alliance, began at noon and included a march from the Embarcadero up Market Street, according to media reports and social media posts. The Middle East Children’s Alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment from J.
S.F. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins denounced what she called the “clearly antisemitic graffiti” in a thread on X on Monday, saying it “has no place in SF” and adding that “these types of acts have the potential to lead to retaliation or an escalation in hateful conduct.”
A day earlier, Jenkins found herself in hot water with pro-Palestinian groups after posting on X a criticism of the demonstration itself, calling it a “pro-Hamas rally.” Jenkins deleted that post and an accompanying thread after complaints from “members of the Muslim and Arab community,” she posted Monday.
Among those outraged by Jenkins’ tweet were members of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), a San Francisco activist group. Lara Kiswani of AROC called Jenkins’ statement “unhinged” in a statement released Monday.
“We are shocked and appalled by DA Jenkin’s hateful, libelous, and dangerous attacks on San Francisco residents, especially in this moment,” Kiswani said. “This is a clear incitement to violence against an already vulnerable community.”
Kiswani took issue with Jenkins’ association of the protest with Hamas, according to the San Francisco Standard. Despite that statement, AROC’s website holds the “Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence we’ve witnessed across historic Palestine.”
The protest Saturday came exactly one week after Hamas terrorists from Gaza infiltrated southern Israel, killing at least 1,400 people in Israel and injuring more than 3,400, the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians. Another 199 people were taken hostage into Gaza, including babies and the elderly, the Israeli government has confirmed.
Meanwhile, Israel’s bombing campaign after Oct. 7 in Hamas-controlled Gaza is ongoing. In Gaza, at least 2,750 people have been killed and another 9,700 injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
In Berkeley, Ilana Pearlman said her 14-year-old son discovered jarring graffiti supporting Hamas violence on a billboard at University and San Pablo avenues on Friday afternoon as he walked home from school. The graffiti vandalized a billboard designed to challenge antisemitism by raising awareness of the Holocaust.
Pearlman later took a photo of the graffiti and reported the incident to the Berkeley Police Department.
Scrawled across the billboard in black spray paint were the words, written in all-caps: “Gaza is a concentration camp. Never again. Support Al Aqsa Flood.” A hammer and sickle, symbols associated with the Communist party, were spraypainted alongside the words “never again.”
“Al Aqsa Flood” refers to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the name that Hamas designated for the Oct. 7 massacre. Oct. 7 has been widely reported as the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
The billboard, created by JewBelong, a New-Jersey based national nonprofit known for attention-grabbing pink billboards that seek to raise awareness about antisemitism, states: “We’re just 78 years since the gas chambers. So no, a billboard calling out Jew hate is not an overreaction.”
“Antisemitism should have no place in our society,” Archie Gottesman, JewBelong’s co-founder, said in a press release about the vandalized billboard. “It’s deeply disturbing to see this kind of dangerous, hateful rhetoric in support of a terrorist attack,” she added.
Berkeley Police did not immediately respond to a J. request for comment.
Pearlman said she saw the obvious irony that a billboard referencing the Holocaust and exposing antisemitism was itself defaced with an antisemitic message.
“I really think it’s wrong to use words from the Holocaust like ‘never again’ to insinuate what’s happening is akin to a concentration camp or a gas chamber,” she told J.
Pearlman has reported antisemitic graffiti defacing Jewbelong billboards to police once before, when she saw “Free Palestine!” written in all-caps over a Jewbelong billboard in January. JewBelong claims this latest vandalism is the third time one of their billboards in Berkeley has been vandalized this year.
This latest defacement, Pearlman said, makes her worry about the safety of her children, ages 3, 6, and 14.
“Anyone who is writing something like this wants my children dead,” Pearlman said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Both graffiti incidents came less than a week after someone threw rocks through the glass doors of a synagogue and a cafe in Fresno. Police took a 30-year-old man into custody in connection to those incidents on Oct. 10. Orlando Ramirez has been charged in the cafe graffiti incident and is “person of interest” in the vandalism at Temple Beth Israel. Authorities reported finding a note at the cafe, Noah’s Ark Restaurant & Bakery, that said “All Jewish businesses will be targeted.”