The day after border clashes in Gaza on Israel's 70th anniversary ended with some 50 unarmed Palestinian protesters killed, a Philly man was arrested for allegedly vandalizing an Israeli flag hanging over the Ben Franklin Parkway with red paint.
Antoine Guyton, 26, was charged with institutional vandalism and criminal mischief for allegedly using a "modified Super Soaker" to spray the Israeli flag near 16th and Ben Franklin Parkway with red paint on May 15.
Laura Frank, PR manager for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said she was alerted by a volunteer with her organization that someone was actively spraying the flag and got to the scene in time to see Guyton spraying the flag, and called the police.
"As we're approaching, we saw a man with the paint gun under the flag and he was actively spraying red paint upwards," Frank said. "We got some pictures, he immediately fled and we called the police. … While we're talking to them, this same man came around the corner, and we pointed him out."
Guyton, who police said had no known address and reportedly had red paint on his clothes, was arrested at the scene. He was allegedly using a squirt gun, similar to the Super Soaker, but loaded with a two-liter plastic soda bottle filled with a mix of red paint and water, to spray the flag, according to Philly Police Sgt. Eric Gripp.
The Israeli flag is one of the roughly 100 national flags hanging on the Parkway representing countries with significant populations in Philadelphia. Flags have been added semi-regularly since 1976.
Frank said she was unaware of Guyton's motives and wasn't sure if she'd call it a hate crime or a political statement.
"We don't like to call anyone anti-Semitic unless we know for sure where it originated from. But it's obviously an offshoot of a lot of activities going on this week. We participated in Israel's flag-raising on Monday, and I think there was some residual anger over that," she said. "I think this was a person's way of lashing out, and it was deplorable. It's one thing to protest and have dialogue, but to actively vandalize and do something that can be seen as a threatening gesture to not just Israel but the whole Jewish community is not OK."
Mayor Jim Kenney decried the incident.
"I’m very upset to learn of the desecration of the Israeli flag that hangs along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway," he said in a statement. "Hate and anti-Semitism have no place in the City of Philadelphia. While I understand that emotions are running high and there are many viewpoints stemming from recent violence against Palestinians and other protesters in the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t warrant hateful acts of vandalism."
Kenney on May 14 attended a ceremony with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia honoring Israel's 70th anniversary, which was protested by the Jewish Voice for Peace group. May 15 is also referred to by some Palestinians as the Nakba, the anniversary of Palestinian displacement in 1948. It was not immediately known if Guyton's motives were political.
Gaza border clashes have continued this week with the death toll of protesters now at 60.