A national billboard campaign meant to focus public attention on antisemitism continues to run into trouble in the Bay Area.
Two billboards in Oakland — hot-pink signs stretching close to 50 feet across and looming above major thoroughfares — were defaced over the weekend.
One of the targeted billboards originally said, “Can a billboard end antisemitism? No. But you’re not a billboard.” The other said, “Cultural Jews died in the gas chambers too. Speak up.”
Neither mentions anything about Israelis, Palestinians or Zionism but were tagged with messages in support of Palestine.
Photos shared with J. show that someone spray-painted “Free Palestine” in bubble letters dripping with red drops, obscuring the last sentence of the message on the first billboard. On the second, someone painted the word “Palestine” over the word “Jews.”
The incidents bring the total number of antisemitism-awareness billboards defaced this year in the Bay Area to five, according to JewBelong, the New Jersey-based nonprofit running the campaign. The pattern is unique to the Bay Area, the organization said.
JewBelong, founded six years ago, has run more than 400 billboards across the country, according to the organization.
“The mere fact that we are taking a stand against antisemitism enrages the haters,” JewBelong co-founder Archie Gottesman said in a statement.
In a Nov. 5 blog post, someone using the handle “sandgazing” appeared to take credit for the “Free Palestine” bubble letters in Oakland. The blog post, which showed a photo of the defaced banner, was titled “Artists for Palestine ‘Fix’ Israeli Propaganda Billboard in Oakland.” It appeared on Indybay, a “non-commercial, democratic collective of Bay Area independent media makers,” according to the site’s “about us” page.
“We express unwavering solidarity with the people of Palestine in their struggle against israeli zionism [sic] and western colonialism,” the post said. “The recent appearance of ‘JewBelong’ billboards in our midst is deeply troubling. Cloaked in the guise of civil rights, these billboards are, in reality, instruments of fear and manipulation.”
The incident was reported to local police, who did not immediately respond to a J. request for comment.
The vandalism coincides with a spike in hate crimes against Jews across the U.S. since the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza and Israel, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
It also comes as Jewish communities in the Bay Area grapple with frustration, alienation and sometimes fear surrounding what many Jews see as tone-deaf expressions of support for Palestinians without regard for Israelis and Jews following Oct. 7.
Last month, the Richmond City Council approved a resolution that affirmed the city’s “support and solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza,” a measure whose initial draft failed to mention the Oct. 7 attack. In Oakland, the teachers union passed a resolution on Monday encouraging its members “to become involved in the growing anti-apartheid movement demanding freedom for Palestine.”
Troubling graffiti has also proliferated around the region.
Last month, someone wrote “Gaza is a concentration camp” and “Support Al Aqsa Flood” — the name of the Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,400 people in Israel, the majority civilians — on a JewBelong billboard in Berkeley. In downtown San Francisco, “kill a settler” and “death to Zionism” were scrawled on a bank during a pro-Palestine protest.