Tamer Nafar
Tamer NafarREUTERS

The U.S. Department of Education will investigate a Middle East conference on Gaza co-sponsored by two North Carolina universities over allegations that it had an anti-Israel bias.

Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., called on the department to check into the late March conference co-sponsored by Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill held at the latter campus.

Holding said he had seen “reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at the taxpayer-funded conference,” The Raleigh News & Observerreported.

The universities budgeted $5,000 in Education Department funding from a four-year grant paying $235,000 annually for international and foreign language education programming. UNC told the newspaper on Tuesday that it spent less than $200 of the grant money.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos responded in a letter to Holding on Tuesday.

“I am troubled by the concerns outlined in your letter,” she wrote. “In order for the Department to learn more about this matter, I have directed the Office of Postsecondary Education to examine the use of funds under this program.”

The conference, titled The “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities,” featured a performance by the Israeli-Arab rapper Tamer Nafar of the hip-hop group DAM. Edited clips of Nafar singing his song “Mama, I Fell in Love with a Jew” at the conference were posted on social media.

“A performance during a recent conference held on our campus contained disturbing and hateful language,” read a statement by Kevin Guskiewicz, UNC’s interim chancellor, on April 12. “I am heartbroken and deeply offended that this performance happened. I stand steadfast against anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms.”

The Louis D. Brandeis Center said in a statement that “the conference failed to provide its participants with what it originally promised — a nuanced and ‘deeper understanding of the context of these realities’ and realistic ‘options that can better the lives of Gazans.’ Other than perpetuating myths about Israel, the conference minimized Hamas’ role in perpetuating the crisis."

The statement added: “Furthermore, panels and programs denied Israel’s right to exist, brandishing it a 'settler-colonialist' entity while negating the enduring legacy of Jewish life in the region.”