Fetterman Says He’s a Friend of Israel. His Art Gallery Raises Questions.

Fetterman’s Braddock Collective featured a notoriously anti-Israel art exhibit amplifying slanderous claim that Israel is ‘apartheid state’

"I Am Palestine" exhibit at UnSmoke
September 13, 2022

On the campaign trail, Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman touts his "unwavering" support for Israel. But the Senate hopeful operates a nonprofit that hosted an anti-Israel art exhibit that demonized Israel as an "apartheid state" and spread slanderous falsehoods about the Jewish State.

Fetterman’s gallery, UnSmoke Systems, hosted an exhibit in 2012 titled "I Am Palestine," featuring a so-called apartheid wall that condemns the 440-mile Israeli-built barrier separating Israel from the West Bank following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings launched from the territory that left roughly 700 Israeli civilians dead.

The artists featured in the exhibit claimed in a statement accompanying the project that Israel built the wall "under the guise of security while stealing more Palestinian land and resources."

Fetterman’s support for the exhibit calls into question his claim, on the campaign trail in a purple state, to support "strengthening and enhancing the security of Israel." The former mayor has also touted an endorsement from Peace Action, an anti-war group that has promoted boycotts of Israel and urged diplomatic ties with Iran. Fetterman’s opponent Mehmet Oz said the endorsement shows Fetterman is "no friend of Israel."

Fetterman’s campaign defended the gallery exhibit and his views on Israel, telling the Washington Free Beacon that Fetterman "is and always has been a pro-Israel Democrat."

"He strongly believes that Israel has the right to defend itself and has pledged to always lean in and support Israel’s security," said Fetterman campaign communications director Joe Calvello. "John is also proud to have helped turn an abandoned convent into a space that brings art and artists to Braddock, creating economic development."

Fetterman’s gallery, which is supported by his nonprofit Braddock Redux, also commissioned a mural in 2008 entitled "Three Boys Living in the Shadow of the Separation Wall" from an artist, Swoon, who is a prominent anti-Israel activist and has called for a cultural boycott of the Jewish state.

One of the artists featured in the 2012 exhibit, Karina Goulordava, served at the time as vice president of the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that "disseminates anti-Israel propaganda often laced with inflammatory and at times combative rhetoric," according to the Anti-Defamation League. The student group often uses apartheid walls at its anti-Israel rallies "depicting Israel alone as responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the ADL says.

Goulordava, who helped organize a "Smash Israeli Apartheid" event at the University of Pittsburgh, developed the art exhibit with Palestinian activist Fadi Kattan when they worked at the International Solidarity Initiative, a Palestinian advocacy group. Kattan, a celebrity chef, has said he "won’t work with an Israeli chef as we’re still an occupied country." He said last year "it’s extremely sad to be an Israeli because being Israeli means you’ve come to this land because you could prove you’re Jewish."

Fetterman launched UnSmoke Systems in 2008 as an affiliate of Braddock Redux, a charity he founded with support from his father, a wealthy insurance executive.

The artists featured in the "I Am Palestine" exhibit invited community members, including children, to write messages on the makeshift wall to mimic the graffiti that adorns the West Bank structure. Video interviews Goulordava conducted with Palestinians living in the West Bank were projected on the wall.