Does the University of North Carolina Have An Antisemitism Problem?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / the Duke-UNC Consortium hosted a conference on Gaza in may which was revealed featured a plethora of antisemitic sentiment.

This past month, the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies jointly held a conference called “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities.” 

The description on the consortium’s website billed the event as an honest discussion on the current realities in Gaza. “Rockets fired out of Gaza; protesters shot near the fence; Egypt mediating between Hamas and Israel.”  The event was also sponsored by 38 departments and schools at the University of North Carolina and used $5,000 in grant money from the Department of Education to host the conference, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.

 Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities” will shed much needed light on the current realities in the Gaza Strip, giving participants a deeper understanding of the context of these realities and offering concrete options that can better the lives of Gazans. - UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies Website

Photo Credit: Ami Horowitz

The conference hosted several speakers who support the anti-Israel BDS movement - which seeks to isolate the Jewish state – while no mainstream Jewish or pro-Israel voices were invited to provide alternative viewpoints. Moreover, numerous local Jewish and community organizations wrote both Duke and UNC out of concern that the conference lacked balance and appeared designed to promote a radical agenda. Still, these concerns fell on deaf ears.

It was only weeks later, when footage emerged on social media that the whistle sounded, and university leaders condemned the “Conflict Over Gaza” conference.

The footage that revealed on social media was captured by controversial filmmaker Ami Horowitz who went undercover to show both the antisemitic and anti-Israel nature of the event.  Despite one’s feelings about Horowitz or his political leanings, throughout the video Horowitz was able to candidly interview students and faculty, revealing a disturbing trend of antisemitic sentiment.

During the event, Horowitz asked attendees if they thought that Jewish money-controlled US Government Policy. “You know, and their money rules world” one woman says in the video. “I appreciate your courage!” replies another.

Horowitz also asked attendees about the current wave of antisemitism taking place in the United States. In response, one professor replied: “Blacks have a lot of reasons to be angry at Jews right now.” Another man on camera claims that Ethiopian Jews were part of systematic sterilization by Israel’s government when they first immigrated to the country.

The filmmaker also captured Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar who performed a song called “Mama, I Fell in Love with A Jew” on the first night of the conference. Nafar introduced his performance by saying “this is my antisemitic song…. don’t think of Rihanna when you sing it, don’t think of Beyonce, think of Mel Gibson. Go that antisemitic… Let’s try it together I need your help, I can’t be antisemitic alone…”

When it was discovered that Horowitz was filming the event, he was kicked out by security and not allowed to return. While the conference at the time received little news coverage on a local or national level, the footage released by the filmmaker weeks later propelled the issue to an international stage.

What followed shortly after the event and the release of footage, showed the complicated nature of the event and release of footage on the media.

On one hand, the antisemitic nature of the event was condemned by UNC’s Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz when he issued a statement saying he was “heartbroken” over the “I fell in love with a Jew” song that was performed during the “Conflict Over Gaza” event.

Congressman George Holding (R-North Carolina) also wrote a letter to the US Education Secretary calling on her to department to investigate anti-Israel bias and antisemitism at the event in light of the fact that the Consortium of Middle East Studies received a federal grant through the department of education worth $235,000.

On the other hand, only a few days ago, antisemitic flyers were found on bookshelves and tables in a library at the University of North Carolina.  The fliers discussed “an evil Jewish plot” and said “do everything you can to fight the silent and covert Jewish attempt to enslave and kill good Americans.”

Sadly, as long as anti-Israel events which serve as thinly veiled platforms for antisemitism exist on campus, problems for Jewish and minority communities will continue.