Hey YU, Tear Down That Poster!
American Jewry often looks to Yeshiva University as an indicator of the state of Modern Orthodox Judaism and its values. In light of recent events, by keeping a picture of Robert Kraft on the outside of the Gottesman Library building on the Wilf Campus, even after removing other posters of Kraft from around campus, Yeshiva University is making a statement that sex trafficking and solicitation of prostitution are excusable crimes. As a high-ranked secular university and an influential Jewish institution, it is the responsibility of Yeshiva University to remove the image of Robert Kraft from the Wilf Campus.
On Feb. 25, the newly formed Jewish Activism Club (JAC) posted a call to action on Facebook urging Yeshiva University to remove the image. The post quickly gained traction, receiving reactions of both agreement and outrage. Some of the individuals who disagreed insisted in the comments under the post and its shared offshoots that it would be a shame to invalidate the good deeds of Robert Kraft in light of his crimes.
I, however, wholeheartedly disagree with those sentiments. Leaving the image of Robert Kraft giving the 2016 commencement address on the wall on Wilf Campus sends a message to all who see it. If this person who was charged with solicitation of prostitution with victims of sex trafficking can still be lauded and honored, how bad were his crimes? Are his crimes even wrong? If one who solicits prostitution continues to be celebrated for other actions, is there a reason any other individual should refrain from soliciting prostitution? The presence of this image in a place of honor empowers individuals to make similar decisions.
On a college campus, this message is particularly dangerous. Women in universities internationally are often subjected to objectification, misogyny and sexual harassment and assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), female college students aged 18-24 years are three times more at risk for sexual assault than other women. The presence of Robert Kraft’s image on Wilf Campus bolsters feelings of misogyny, particularly among the men who walk past the picture daily on their way to classes. As a result, the safety and self-esteem of the women who attend Yeshiva University can be put at risk; his image enables those who already see women as objects.
On Feb. 28, Yeshiva University removed the poster of Kraft on the elevator in Furst Hall. However, there has been speculation that the poster on the outside of the library will not be removed until another poster arrives to replace it. While this shows that Yeshiva University is not condoning Kraft’s actions, the message would be stronger if the poster was removed immediately. Rather than avoiding having a blank space on the wall for a few days, why not let the blank space make a statement in itself; that it values integrity over appearance?
Specific to Yeshiva University, keeping the image makes a statement to a much greater audience. Yeshiva University influences both the present and the future of American Jewry. When Yeshiva University makes a statement, whether active or passive, the entire Orthodox world listens. Yeshiva University not removing the picture of Robert Kraft on Wilf Campus makes a wordless statement about its view on prostitution. What will happen to the community as a result of those who choose to listen to this statement?
In response to disagreeing comments on the Jewish Activism Club’s Facebook post, Molly Meisels (SCW ‘20) commented, “...[T]o [the] question about whether all his good deeds should be invalidated should he be convicted — the deeds should not be invalidated, but he should be. The university should not laud a man who is so desperate for sexual pleasure that he pays for women who are being held against their will.”
It is important to note that, as Meisels stated, his good deeds should not be invalidated, but he should be. In such a case, we must isolate in our minds Kraft the person from Kraft the donor of large sums of money to many noble causes. Are we, as a university and as a society, going to value one person’s wealth over the dignity and safety of women?
Yeshiva University is an institution that influences not only the student body but the greater Jewish community. It is the duty of Yeshiva University to condemn sex trafficking and solicitation of prostitution through the removal of the image of Robert Kraft from its campuses — for the sake of the university, its students and the wider Jewish community.
Photo Caption: The outer wall of the Gottesman Library on Feb. 28
Photo Credit: The Commentator