Man with a swastika near UWM Israel event

MILWAUKEE – A man with a swastika sign paraded back and forth beside a pro-Israel event at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee on Monday, May 6, 2019.

The event, which attracted 200-250 students throughout the day, celebrated the anniversary of Israel’s birth this month. The celebration was sponsored by Students Supporting Israel at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Hillel Milwaukee. It was held at Spaights Plaza just outside the Golda Meir Library.

“It’s a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration,” said Sarah Berry, a junior at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and president of Students Supporting Israel on campus. “We brought Artists 4 Israel, which is a national organization.”

A man with a swastika sign was near a pro-Israel event at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee on Monday, May 6, 2019. Elana Kahn, center, and Allison Hayden at right, both of the Jewish Community Relations Council, spoke with him.

But as the event started at 11 a.m. – with students carrying Israeli flags and artists spray-painting t-shirts – the man arrived with his sign.

Berry called campus police, who told her the man has a right to free speech and nothing can be done, though they did soon arrive, she said.

“It’s a disappointment, seeing someone on campus with a swastika,” Berry said.

Berry said her group knows not to engage with protesters, but passersby unaffiliated with Students Supporting Israel did yell at him and accuse him of spreading hate, she said.

The man is believed to be a student, according to Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Kahn arrived at the event and approached him, telling him, “What you’re doing is tapping into trauma.”

“He disagrees,” she later said. Kahn said he appeared to be seeking attention, in pursuit of causes related to social issues.

“We have been protested in the past, but nothing so anti-Semitic,” said Berry, a nursing major. Two years ago, Palestinian sympathizers protested a similar event on campus, she said.

When asked if Berry will be discouraged from holding future Jewish or Israeli themed events on campus, she replied, “Definitely not.”