Recently-released video footage from a federally-funded conference on the Israel-Arab conflict at a North Carolina university has prompted calls for an investigation into the event, amid allegations of anti-Semitism.
Congressman George Holding, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district and serves on the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, penned a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Monday, calling on her department to investigate allegations of extreme anti-Israel bias, promotion of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) agenda, and even anti-Semitism at an event held last month at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
“A number of my constituents have reached out to me expressing concern over what they tell me are reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer - funded conference, “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities”, held between March 22nd-24th at the University of North Carolina (UNC), in conjunction with Duke University (Duke),” Holding wrote, noting that the body which cosponsored the event is funded by the federal Department of Education.
“The Consortium for Middle East Studies, which co-sponsored the conference, applied for and received a federal grant through the Department of Education (DOE) worth $235,000.
“According to 1st-hand accounts, the conference had a radical anti-Israeli bias. Reportedly, speakers and panelists distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza. A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly anti-Semitic song. Examination of the official program reveals that several of the conference’s speakers are actively involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Prior to the event, local religious and community organizations, academics and citizens wrote the universities expressing concern that the conference lacked balance and appeared designed to promote a radical agenda. Apparently, these concerns were ignored, with no mainstream speakers or panelists included in the three-day conference. If these reports are accurate, I have difficulty understanding why tax dollars should be spent on such an activity.”
While the conference, held in late March, was criticized by local Jewish groups, it received little to no news coverage outside of North Carolina.
The story gained international attention, however, after documentary filmmaker Ami Horowitz, who filmed portions of the conference before being forced off campus, released footage and audio recordings from the event on Sunday.
The footage taken by Horowitz includes a performance by the anti-Zionist Israeli-Arab rapper Tamer Nafar, who can be heard calling on the audience to “go that anti-Semitic”, before launching into a rendition of the song “Mama, I Fell in Love With a Jew”, by Nafar’s rap group, DAM.
“Anti-Semitism, yeah, okay,” said Nafar. “I know it sounds like R&B stuff, but don’t think of Rihanna when you sing it. Don’t think of Beyonce… think of Mel Gibson. Go that anti-Semitic.”
“Let’s try it together. I need your help because I cannot be anti-Semitic alone,” Nafar continued, later telling the audience, “You look beautifully anti-Semitic.”
Nafar, a former protégé of the Jewish rapper Kobi Shimoni – better known by his stage name “Subliminal” – has come under criticism in the past for his comments on suicide bombers and claim that Israel is a “terrorist state”.
Some attendees, however, claimed that Nafar’s call to anti-Semitism was taken out of context.
“As someone who is Palestinian, on this campus and in general in America, talking about Palestinian rights is always something that people like to make controversial, and they always love making criticism of Israel out to be like it's anti-Semitism,” Fouad Abu-Hijleh, a junior at UNC Chapel Hill told The Daily Tar Heel.
“When he said, ‘This is my anti-Semitic song,’ I think he was alluding to that, like, if you criticize Israel, people are going to call you an anti-Semite. That’s how I perceived it as a Palestinian. Now obviously for an American audience, I don’t know if that translated well or if that carried its meaning.”
The conference also featured a number of speakers who back the anti-Israel BDS movement - which seeks to isolate the Jewish state – with no mainstream, pro-Israel voices represented to provide an alternate viewpoint.
The featured speakers included Laila El Haddad, a pro-BDS activist and writer; Nathan Brown, president of the Middle East Studies Association, who defended MESA’s move to affirm BDS as “legitimate form of nonviolent political action” against Israel; Tania Hary, the executive director of the far-left Gisha organization, which has accused Israel of ‘apartheid’; Nathan Stock, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who according to the conference’s website, led “efforts to… assert Palestinian sovereignty via international” intervention; and former Palestinian Authority official Ghaith al-Omari, among others.
Witnesses say the conference’s organizers even appeared to encourage attendees to take part in events organized by the radical anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine organization, noting that the conference’s official registration table was distributing flyers promoting an upcoming SJP event.
Days after the event, Swastikas were found drawn on campus. Later, posters warning of “an evil Jewish plot” were also found on campus.
Last Friday, University of North Carolina Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz condemned Tamer Nafar’s performance, dubbing it “disturbing and hateful”.
“A performance during a recent conference held on our campus contained disturbing and hateful language. Like many members of our community, I am heartbroken and deeply offended that this performance happened. I stand steadfast against Anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms. The Carolina spirit is not about hateful language that divides us, but about civil discourse that advances ideas and knowledge. We must continue to aspire together to that ideal.”
Duke University also issued a statement, ABC-11 reported, generally addressing the recent spate of anti-Semitic graffiti and hanging of anti-Semitic posters – along with passing reference to “rallies or concerts, in conference rooms.”
We want to be very clear: anti-Semitism is one of the great scourges of modern life. Its resurgence, as demonstrated by the worldwide increase in hate crimes and incidents, is deeply troubling and should be of great concern to any civil society.”
"Whether it occurs on our campus, in our community, through graffiti, rallies or concerts, in conference rooms or courtrooms, we must all speak out forcefully against actions and statements that target and threaten members of our Jewish community.”