Sponsors Demand Refund After Antisemitic Rap at UNC Gaza Conference, While Lawmaker Calls for Federal Probe
The fallout over a conference hosted at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill about the Gaza Strip continued in recent days, as a member of Congress called for an investigation into public funding of the event and some sponsors demanded their money back.
The outcry centered on a performance by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar on March 22, the first night of the three-day “Conflict over Gaza” conference, who sang a self-described “antisemitic song.”
“I need your help, I cannot be antisemitic alone,” Nafar told audience members, according to video footage of the event. “Think of Mel Gibson. Go that antisemitic.”
In a statement released last Friday, UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz acknowledged that the performance “contained disturbing and hateful language.”
“Like many members of our community, I am heartbroken and deeply offended that this performance happened,” he added.
The incident also brought sharp condemnations from UNC’s School of Law and School of Government, which had each granted the event a $500 co-sponsorship.
In a Friday letter sent to leaders of the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, which hosted the conference along with the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, law school dean Martin Brinkley said he was “deeply disappointed in your breach of trust with innocent campus units who sought only to be good citizens and partners.”
“Due to your inclusion of conference content over which I had no knowledge or control, I have been forced to spend most of the last two days responding to outraged members of my own community who are ashamed and embarrassed to see the law school shown as a sponsor of what they consider hate speech,” Brinkley wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Algemeiner.
In a separate letter on Sunday, dean Mike Smith of the School of Government said he expected the organizers “to intervene and stop a performance that so obviously and painfully contravened campus norms and values, and that so undercut the cultural understanding that you claimed to promote.”
“It simply is wrong to defend this explicitly anti-Semitic performance under the cloak of academic freedom. It crossed a bright line and you should have the integrity to reject it and take responsibility for it,” Smith added.
Both deans asked for their schools to be refunded their contributions, and removed as co-sponsors of the conference.
UNC Global told the Algemeiner in an email on Wednesday that “The Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies will return funds to any co-sponsors that request it, without relying on federal or state funds.”
The controversy has also prompted Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) to call on the US Department of Education — which allotted a federal grant worth $235,000 to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, a conference sponsor — to launch an investigation.
In a Monday letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Holding wrote that while many community members had expressed reservations about the conference to sponsors, “these concerns were ignored, with no mainstream speakers or panelists included in the three-day conference.”
“Honest academic debate featuring diverse perspectives and a wide-range of views is critical in a democratic society and a central tenet of America’s educational system,” Holding wrote. “However, it is irresponsible, immoral and unproductive for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy camouflaged as academic discourse.”
UNC Global said that it “will work directly with the US Department of Education, if contacted, to address any questions about this matter.”
Aside from objections to Nafar’s performance, the conference was further criticized for failing to include a diversity of viewpoints, with NC Hillel saying last month that the event “featured speakers who demonized Israel for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and included too few perspectives from scholars who could have provided balanced context and multiple viewpoints on this challenging subject.”
“[C]onference speakers largely failed to address the role that Hamas, Gaza’s own government, plays in perpetuating this crisis by committing acts of terror and diverting needed resources from its people,” NC Hillel continued. “Conference organizers selected largely like-minded speakers, including many who were on record as favoring boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”
Amy Rosenthal, a former faculty member at Duke University, likewise described the program as presenting “a one-sided perspective on Gaza.”
“There was no mention of Gazan terrorism and the “pay to slay” policy of paying salaries to terrorists (and the families of terrorists) who kill innocent Jews, Americans, and others,” she wrote. “There was no mention of the riots to break through Israel’s border, or the terror tunnels built by Hamas. And there was certainly no mention of the thousands of rockets launched from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians.”