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Vandals painted a red triangle on the home of a Jewish museum director. What does it mean?

Hamas militants have used the symbol to mark targets. Who else has adopted it?

Vandals spattered the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum’s home with blood-red paint, hung a banner vilifying her as a “White-Supremacist Zionist” and also daubed an red inverted triangle on her windows. 

That triangle inspired perhaps the most anxiety after the Tuesday night incident, which Mayor Eric Adams and others are calling an antisemitic hate crime.

Vandals Tuesday defaced the facade of the home of Anne Pasternak, the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum. City officials called it an antisemitic attack. Photo by X screenshot

“The mob painted an inverted red triangle on the door — the symbol used by terrorists to mark targets they want to take out,” tweeted a Jewish woman on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter.

She’s right, in that Hamas and other militant groups in the Middle East have used the symbol to show objects or people — mostly Israeli and Western — they have targeted.

A student walks holding a Palestinian flag during a demonstration May 24 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Sebastián Vivallo Oñate/Agencia Makro/Getty Images

But the symbol has also been used more generally, by those who want to signal support for Palestinian liberation. In that context, said Costanza Musu, a University of Ottawa professor who teaches a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the triangle refers to part of the Palestinian flag. As such, she said, it’s used “generally speaking to symbolize resistance.”

She also noted that the Nazis used the symbol to identify people with political views unacceptable to them.

An inverted red triangle marks a political prisoner’s clothing at the Dachau concentration camp. Photo by Wikipedia

“But it’s a lot harder to say that it wasn’t intended as a way of identifying a target,” she continued, when it’s painted on a Jewish person’s house, far from a college protest where students are using a variety of symbols.

Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, also knows the upside-down triangle can mean different things to different people. But American Jews have every reason to recoil from it, she said.

“It’s important to understand how it’s being used, how we’ve seen it for years, especially in recent days, including spray painted onto the home of a Jewish person — it’s absolutely wrong, painful, scary, antisemitic.”

When it’s not targeting a specific person or home, Musu said the symbol can be compared to “from the river to the sea,” a slogan heard at many protests against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. For some it’s a call for the empowerment of Palestinians from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. For others, it’s a call to eliminate Jews from that land — in other words, the destruction of Israel and even killing of Jews.

“All of this tells us,” Spitalnick said, “that no one is even speaking the same language.”

Police are still investigating the incident at the Brooklyn Museum director’s Brooklyn Heights home. Homes of three other Brooklyn Museum staff and trustees were also targeted Tuesday night. No arrests have yet been made. 

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