January 17, 2020

UC Davis Community, ADL respond to hate-crime graffiti

The UC Davis chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) is reeling from a hate crime involving two red swastikas spray painted on its fraternity house, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

AEPi members woke up on the morning of Jan. 31 and discovered the swastikas on a wall of the fraternity’s “house and on the ground behind a door nearby,” an ADL statement said. ADL Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk described the graffiti as a “heinous expression of hatred.” 

The City of Davis police are investigating the incident, which occurred between 2 and 9:50 a.m., and the ADL is “offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s) responsible for the vandalism,” a Feb. 2 statement by police said. 

Julia Reifkind, 20, president of the pro-Israel UC Davis group Aggies for Israel and a 2012 graduate of Milken Community Schools, told the Journal she was stunned when she saw what happened.

“I have never witnessed a hate crime up close, and to really be standing there right in front of it was a huge shock,” she said. 

The discovery of the swastikas took place during the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And two days before the discovery of the swastikas, the UC Davis student government passed an Israel divestment resolution in an 8-2-2 vote. More than 100 pro-Israel and Jewish students protested the Jan. 29 vote.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi condemned the swastikas. In a statement released Jan. 31, Katehi said the “behavior is not only repugnant and a gross violation of the values our university holds dear, it is unacceptable and must not be tolerated on our campus or anywhere else.” 

With regard to the Israel resolution vote, Katehi said in a separate statement that divestment from Israel “does not reflect the position of UC Davis or the [UC] system” and that “this type of call to action will not be entertained.” 

Reifkind, a third-year philosophy major, was among those who spoke out against the divestment vote meeting, which drew members of AEPi, according to the Aggies for Israel Facebook page. A leader of the school’s pro-Israel community, she helped orchestrate the walkout from the meeting that involved Jewish and pro-Israel students. 

Reifkind said she is “grateful” for the UC Davis administration’s condemnation of the swastika incident, but she also expressed disappointment that school leaders have not drawn a more direct and public “connection between the divestment resolution itself and anti-Semitism.”

“I think they are doing the best they can, given the climate on campus, but it would be better if they were more proactive about it,” she said. “I think they could have a bigger call to action in regard to anti-Semitism, but I’m grateful they have released a statement.”

The incident was just one of several similar incidents that have taken place at AEPi houses around the country lately, according to a statement released on Feb. 2 by AEPi’s executive director, Andrew Borans.

“On campuses throughout North America and Europe, AEPi brothers have been leading the Jewish community and leading the student movement to defend Israel,” Borans said. “Because of that leadership, in the last few months alone, our brothers have been the targets of anti-Semitic attacks at a dozen universities, including Oregon, the Claremont colleges, Arizona, Calgary, Loyola, Ohio, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Temple, Emory, SUNY-Oneonta, Tufts and, now, in Davis.”

Ronda Wilkin, a Los Angeles-based member of the UC Davis Parent and Family Council, said in a Feb. 3 phone interview that incidents like these make her concerned about the safety of students on college campuses. Her daughter, Samantha, is a third-year student at Davis, and Samantha’s twin brother, Daniel, attends the University of Oregon, both of which have been targets of anti-Semitic attacks.

“It’s sad, perhaps a little scary. You just want to make sure your kids are safe; that’s all I want. I want all of the kids at UC Davis to be safe — every color, every religion, every sexual orientation,” Wilkin told the Journal. “I just want them to be at a place that is safe and fosters an education.”