Pro-Israel chalk defaced at South Dakota

Pro-Israel and pro-peace chalkings at the University of South Dakota were variously erased and adorned with spiteful ripostes early Tuesday morning.

“We went out around midnight to do the chalking,” Kfir Orgad, president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at USD, told Campus Reform. “Most of them were erased by 7:00 a.m. when I went to class.”

Not all the messages were merely erased, though. Some were allowed to remain, albeit with childish rejoinders written alongside them.

In one photograph provided to Campus Reform, a “Support Israel” chalking is adorned with the corollary “because fascist states are awesome,” a message that required an arrow to ensure that passersby would not take it as a reference to the “Support Palestine” chalking that was also added to the scene.

“I was expecting it to happen, [though] probably not that soon,” Orgad noted, explaining that while he is not aware of any organized opposition to Israel on campus, his group routinely encounters hostility from students when it holds demonstrations, and even when it simply sets up a table to recruit new members.

“It's hard to tell who did it; we don't have any pro-Palestinian groups,” he said. “There is a lot of opposition [to SSI] but it's not organized, per se.”

Significantly, Orgad told Campus Reform that the swift and decisive retaliation against SSI’s chalk messages has not been visited on other controversial chalkings at USD, such as the slogans written by groups on both sides of the abortion debate that he claims have endured, unmolested, for nearly three weeks.

Since SSI went out of its way to choose “universal messages, like 'pro-peace',” Orgad believes his group’s chalkings were singled out by individuals unwilling to countenance even the mildest expressions of support for Israel.

“The pro-life chalk was left alone; the pro-choice chalk was left alone, but ours were defaced,” he said. “I know that [students] are overwhelmingly against some of the other groups' messages, as well, but ours was targeted.”

Tuesday’s incident was not even the first time that SSI has had its chalkings disrupted, and Orgad conceded that he has finally had enough, saying, “the chalking has got to stop, because we just can't keep up with the erasing. We're breaking our backs out there a couple times a week, but they don't last until morning.”

Spokespersons for USD were unable to shed any additional light on which parties may have been responsible for marring SSI’s messages, but indicated that the university takes free expression seriously and is disappointed that student opinions are being silenced.

“USD is a freedom of speech campus and we encourage civil discussion of any topic,” Director of Marketing Communications and University Relations Tena Haraldson told Campus Reform. “We hope all opinions are respected and we hope the diversity on our campus fosters tolerance and understanding in an educational environment.”

Carson Walker, Assistant Director of Marketing at USD, added that the university does not have a formal policy either allowing or prohibiting chalking, but observed that the Student Government Association has been “made aware of similar complaints from student organizations this week and is gathering more information on the matter.”

For his part, Orgad said SSI would pursue other means of getting its message out, such as a “Wall of Truth” it plans to display next week.

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