While visiting downtown Berkeley yesterday, I became intrigued by this ad on an AC Transit bus stop:

Say what? A boycott Israel ad? The propagandists are certainly getting bolder, and better funded! I came in for a closer look.

Turns out the ad’s words referred to the fact that the University of California recently reinstated its study-abroad program with Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which apparently has infuriated the many virulent anti-Israel activists in the U.C. system. (Pay no attention to the fact that U.C. has nearly 100 study-abroad programs in 35 countries around the world including Egypt and Turkey; while there are several programs each in many of the participating countries, there is only one in Israel. As usual, Israel is singled out for criticism by the academic left.)

But something seemed “wrong” about the ad. A more detailed inspection revealed that various graphic components had been glued in place, such as this tank. Not Photoshopped — but literally glued onto the background image.

The word balloons spoken by the students were also later additions.

When seen from above, some of the word balloons were coming unglued.

I then realized that the main body of text was itself glued into place. (Notice the edge peeling up at the lower left.) The whole ad was faked!

The final piece of the puzzle: The locking mechanism for the glass cover had been broken, allowing vandals to access the billboard inside.

I suspected that the ad had originally been an ad promoting study in Israel, which was then later vandalized and doctored by anti-Israel activists to reverse the message.

But who did it?

Didn’t take me long to find out. Because the culprits bragged about it online.

A press release issued by the “U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel” gleefully described the organized “guerrilla ad campaign,” and was reprinted in various publications and on various Web sites, including (for example) the Socialist magazine The Monthly Review. The press release reads, in part,

Guerrilla Ad Campaign Replaces “Study in Israel” Billboards
by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel

Students and community members near the UC Berkeley campus were surprised one weekend to see a series of bus shelter billboards …
The guerrilla ads replaced ads which also featured photos of groups of people, beneath the headline, “Study in Israel? You’d like it here.” The ad campaign was part of an intensive campaign to promote study in Israel at California universities. The University of California recently reinstated a study abroad program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, after years of strong lobbying from pro-Israel students and professionals.

The press release then goes on to describe a whole series of earlier ad defacements, of which the one I saw was merely the most recent example.

The press release was also printed on the Palestinian Birzeit university site and U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Note, however, that the press release says the guerrillas wish to “remain anonymous,” even though they freely give quotes in interviews with USCACBI.

One posting about the press release, by a blogger on the “Body on the Line” site, says that the fake ads were made by “friends of mine” — implying that he knows who did it.

I became curious as to who put up the original ads in the first place. I noticed that one of the original ads, as seen in the Monthly Review article above, shows some young women crossing a street. That same image is used in a different ad put up by the pro-Israel organization BlueStarPR, leading me to the presumption that the guerrillas were targetting BlueStarPR ads. But a quick review of the full list of all BlueStarPR images does not reveal the original version of the defaced ad I saw. So I’m still not sure who placed the original ad.

If you know who designed and paid for the authentic advertisement, please inform them, and/or post the information in the comments section here!

In a related incident, the Muslim Association of Britain is calling for similar pro-Israel bus advertisements in London to be taken down, and several of those ads are reported to have been defaced. Could there be a connection?

UPDATE: BlueStarPR confirms that they indeed are the group which designed and placed the ads, in conjunction with the U.C. Berkeley Study Abroad program.

Several readers have pointed out that defacing or replacing ads counts as either criminal vandalism or outright theft, and is punishable by law. Perhaps the sites linked to in the defacement (http://usacbi.wordpress.com/, http://www.stopthewall.org/ and http://www.bdsmovement.net/ merit a little investigation in relation to this crime?

UPDATE 2: The BlueTruth blog earlier this month had a post about an identical ad defacement in Berkeley, along with excellent background info on the relationship between U.C. Berkeley and Hebrew University: BlueTruth: For Marla Bennett