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Town administrator asks residents to stop putting Israeli hostage posters on public property

A utility box on Beacon Street in Brookline, pictured Friday afternoon, is blanketed with posters of kidnapped Israelis. Photo by Sam Mintz
November 11, 2023

Brookline’s town administrator on Friday asked residents to stop placing posters featuring kidnapped Israeli people on public property, saying that the Department of Public Works’ efforts to remove them is draining town resources.

In an email to several department heads and Town Meeting members, Town Administrator Chas Carey said that the DPW has been removing the posters, which read “Kidnapped” and feature photos of people taken hostage during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The removals have been “pursuant to regular policies and procedures, just as they do with any other posting that is not allowed,” Carey wrote.

As tensions over the posters have ramped up, Carey wrote, the people placing them have been taking measures to make them harder to remove, including placing them out of arm’s reach and “coating them with a Vaseline-like substance.”

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“We realize that tensions are running high in the community due to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. We respect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions on the subject,” Carey wrote. “But the cost to the town in terms of staff time and resources to remove these posters as part of regular care and maintenance is untenable. The effort required is creating a backlog of other issues that are going unaddressed.”

He asked that whoever is placing the posters find “an alternative means of spreading their message,” including placing them on private property instead.

The posters have been a flashpoint across the country since the Oct. 7 attacks. On social media, users have shared videos of people taking them down, seeking to identify them and accusing them of anti-Semitism. One Newton dentist was fired from her job after being seen on video removing posters in Chestnut Hill.

At least two posts on social media Friday depicted people taking down posters in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner. One resident posted in the town Facebook group a photo of a man in a neon vest, carrying a bucket. It was unclear if the person pictured works for the town.

“Does anyone know this guy? He was ripping off Hostages signs. True disgrace!” the resident wrote on Facebook.

Several Town Meeting members responded to Carey, asking if an exception could be made for the posters.

Carey replied that not enforcing the town’s policies because of the content of the posters’ message could be “construed as viewpoint discrimination.”

“DPW keeps public streets and property clean in accordance with their regular practices — we can’t suspend those to favor one voice or message over another,” he wrote.

Sassan Zelkha, a Town Meeting member, argued that many other towns in Massachusetts and the United States have allowed posters to stay up.

“The DPW leaves up “Lost Cat” posters, garage sale posters, language lessons, etc., for months and that’s okay but not Jewish hostages?” he wrote in an email to Carey.

Carey provided a statement to Brookline.News:

“There has been no change in policy or procedure regarding how the Department of Public Works removes unauthorized postings from public property. The issue that prompted my outreach was not a specific message but a new posting method that made removal in the ordinary course of business difficult. I understand why the messengers wanted to use those tactics and deplore any attempts to silence them. But as a matter of municipal policy, using those methods was causing an unexpected drain on community resources in a way that the people putting up the posters likely didn’t intend,” Carey said.

“We are here as public servants to help this whole community and make all members feel safe and welcome. That means standing firm against discrimination in any context as we go about the day-to-day operations that make the town run. As I mentioned in my most recent newsletter, it’s especially important to make that clear in times like these when the many pernicious strains of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are rearing their heads. If my message was in any way uncertain, and especially if it led to the mistaken impression that the town is objecting to the content of the signs rather than expressing concern about the new method used to put them up, then that’s my error and I sincerely apologize.”

A ripped poster in Coolidge Corner, pictured on the afternoon of Nov. 10. Photo by Sam Mintz