Council member slams vandalism as 'disgrace'

Female Holocaust survivor’s portrait defaced for 3rd time at Jerusalem exhibit

In most recent attack outside City Hall, images of Peggy Parnass sprayed with paint; women’s rights group blames ultra-Orthodox activists trying to remove women from public arena

People walk past a photo exhibition of the last survivors of the Holocaust as part of the 'Lonka project,' at Safra Square in Jerusalem, April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People walk past a photo exhibition of the last survivors of the Holocaust as part of the 'Lonka project,' at Safra Square in Jerusalem, April 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A portrait of a female Holocaust survivor was defaced for the third time outside Jerusalem City Hall, where it is on display as part of an exhibit that tells the stories of 400 survivors of the Nazi atrocities during World War II.

Organizers and the country’s main women’s rights group blamed the vandalism on ultra-Orthodox activists, with the latter saying it was part of an effort to drive the presence of women away from the public sphere.

The three-meter-high double portrait of Peggy Parnass was defaced with spray paint sometime in the past few days, Channel 12 news reported.

The exhibition has been on display since April in the Safra Square forecourt of the Jerusalem municipality complex. It was due to end in August.

According to the Lonka Project, which organized the exhibition, it is the third time that the photos of Parnass have been vandalized.

It was unclear why this particular picture had been targeted when the pictures of other women were also displayed, but it could have been linked to its location.

“Fingers crossed the culprit (most likely an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth from a nearby neighborhood), does not return for a fourth round of vandalism to this photo and the Jerusalem Municipality is able to install a videocamera in this spot,” the Lonka Project said in a statement on its website.

The photograph, printed on special protective paper, was cleaned up on Sunday, the Lonka Project said.

The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that it “takes a very serious view of the incident and will act to replace the damaged display with a new one.”

The municipality said it would also increase security patrols in the area.

The Israel Women’s Network (IWN) said in a statement that the vandalism “is shocking to us, but, to our great regret, not at all surprising.”

“The reality is that the destruction of images of women in the public sphere in Israel occurs on a daily basis throughout the country,” the IWN said. It pointed to similar incidents of defacement in the capital over the past year including photos of hospital nurses who were fighting the coronavirus outbreak and medal-winning gymnast Linoy Ashram.

The IWN said such vandalism goes beyond the simple act of defacement and impacts women and girls when they encounter the phenomenon.

“As women, we are all hurt, every woman and girl who sees the defaced signs and internalizes the message about their place in the public space,” the statement said.

It criticized the response by the municipality and police, saying “the criminals have no reason to stop.”

So far, no complaint has been filed with Jerusalem district police although the force said they “proactively referred the matter to the Investigations and Intelligence Division,” Channel 12 news reported.

Jerusalem city council member Ofer Berkovich, in Jerusalem, February 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem city council member Ofer Berkovich, of the opposition Hitorerut (Awakening) movement, tweeted Sunday that the incident was “a disgrace.”

“There is a link between the harm to women and harm to Holocaust survivors,” he wrote and noted that though the general area is well covered by security cameras, no arrests have yet been made.

Speaking to Channel 12, Berkovich called for stricter enforcement against those who aim to drive women out of the public arena and suggested as a response there be a counter-campaign to boost images of women in public.

“It is time, as an appropriate response, to expand the number of images of women in the public sphere, both by private and municipal bodies,” he said.

In 2019, after posters of Jerusalem mayoral candidate Rachel Azaria were defaced by ultra-Orthodox activists, she responded by organizing for posters of women to be displayed on buses in the capital.

The posters under the title “I have a dream” envisioned a society in which women were not discriminated against on various issues.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters vandalize an election poster of Jerusalem mayor candidate MK Rachel Azaria in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on July 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Parnass was born in Hamburg in 1927. Her parents were both killed in the Treblinka extermination camp. She and her brother survived the war by staying, separately, with families in other countries. After the war she worked as a reporter, writing essays on Nazi crime and human rights. She also authored books and has appeared in films and television programs. Parnass now lives in her hometown Hamburg.

The Lonka Project exhibit, an initiative by photographers Jim Hollander and Rina Castelnuovo, was set up to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and includes the portraits and stories of 400 survivors captured by photographers around the world. Each photograph is accompanied by the story of the survivor in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

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