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December 17, 2019 5:54 pm

Duke University Agrees to Address Antisemitism Concerns Following Education Dept. Complaint

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Duke University. Photo: Ilyse Whitney / CC BY 2.0.

The US Department of Education resolved a complaint this month against Duke University, which has agreed to take several steps to address concerns over antisemitism stemming from a March conference on Gaza, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) announced.

The ZOA first filed a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in April, which alleged that Duke and the University of North Carolina (UNC) may have “misused federal funds” by sponsoring the conference at UNC’s flagship Chapel Hill campus. The conference was accused of being “reportedly one-sided and hostile to Israel,” and condemned for including a controversial performance by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar.

“I need your help, I cannot be antisemitic alone,” Nafar was recorded telling audience members at the event. “Think of Mel Gibson. Go that antisemitic,” the rapper added while performing a self-described “antisemitic song.”

Several antisemitic flyers referring to “an evil Jewish plot” were found days later at a campus library.

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OCR agreed to probe both Duke and UNC over the incident, though both schools sought to resolve the issues brought forward in ZOA’s complaint before the investigation concluded. UNC endorsed a resolution agreement with OCR this past October, which required it to take a number of steps to ensure students do not face a hostile environment.

According to documents shared by ZOA, Duke has recently entered into a similar agreement. In a December 10 letter to ZOA National President Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, director of the group’s Center for Law and Justice, the OCR’s chief regional attorney announced that Duke signed a resolution agreement on December 3.

The agreement requires the school to publish a community-wide statement expressing no tolerance for “prohibited harassment,” which will also specifically call out antisemitism. The university further committed to ensure that its policies continue addressing harassment based on race or national origin, to “provide a description of the forms of anti-Semitism that can manifest in the University environment,” and to continue responding “to incidents of anti-Semitic harassment or discrimination.”

For the next two academic years, Duke also agreed to include its policies on prohibited harassment, including antisemitism, in each training or orientation session offered to the campus community, and to host at least one annual meeting providing students, faculty, and staff the chance to discuss concerns over harassment with administrators.

Notably, Duke’s agreement with OCR does not include an admission of wrongdoing. In its letter to ZOA, the OCR noted that the university “promptly took a number of steps to respond to the performance and the numerous complaints” it received in its wake, primarily from alumni and parents of current students. These included statements issued by university leaders condemning antisemitism and Nafar’s performance, as well as a March training session carried out by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jewish civil rights group.

In a statement on Tuesday, ZOA’s Klein and Tuchman applauded Duke for its cooperation with OCR to resolve the complaint, as well as the recent passage of an executive order on antisemitism, “which makes it even clearer that our government is committed to fighting this ugly hatred here in the U.S. and around the world, especially on our college campuses.”

The OCR is currently headed by Kenneth Marcus, a veteran advocate against campus antisemitism. Under his tenure, the office has opened several complaints over allegations of anti-Jewish discrimination, including at Rutgers University and New York University.

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