In late March, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) and my alma mater, Duke University, co-hosted a conference entitled, "Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities." Specifically, the conference was co-hosted by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, which received a whopping $235,000 Department of Education grant last year to defray costs and help host the event.
In a truly shocking and in no way whatsoever eminently predictable turn of events, the conference ended up being a vile Israel-bashing — and, indeed, Jew-bashing — imbroglio. The conference deserves universal condemnation.
I mean, who in his right mind could have thought that a conference dedicated to the situation in the Gaza Strip — a beleaguered area from which Israel famously unilaterally withdrew in 2005 and in which local Gazans subsequently democratically elected Hamas, a Sunni sharia supremacist jihadist group, to lead them — could lead to scurrilous defaming of a pivotal American ally and bigoted howling against the most systemically persecuted group of people in recorded human history?
As it turns out, UNC and Duke received no shortage of up-front warnings from concerned citizens about the obvious nature of the conference. Beth El Synagogue, a longstanding Durham, North Carolina fixture that sits near Duke's East Campus, sent a letter to the universities noting that the "program imbalance" would "fuel concern in the Jewish community ... [about] an atmosphere in which an exchange of perspectives is unwelcome and where Israel will be demonized." And in a piece last month at The Tower, Peter Reitzes carefully highlighted the deeply troubling nature of some of the conference's participants:
For instance, providing welcoming remarks is speaker Laila El-Haddad, who has tweeted "Israel is a terrorist state" and is an outspoken supporter of the BDS movement. ...
El-Haddad has charged Israel with "equating [Palestinian] children with human cannon fodder" and with seeking the "extermination" of Palestinians. ...
El-Haddad has publicly supported terror tunnels burrowed from Gaza into Israel. The purpose of these tunnels is to kill and kidnap Israelis. El-Haddad tweeted, "#ResistanceTunnels have existed in #Gaza since ancient times: they stifled Alexander the Greats attempts to conquer the city. #justsaying."
Comparing Gaza to the Holocaust, El-Haddad wrote, "The real genocide in Gaza cannot or will not be assessed through sheer numbers. It is not a massacre of gas chambers. No. It is a slow and calculated genocide – a Genocide through more calibrated, long-term means."
Alas, the conference went on as expected. Far from even attempting to present a purportedly balanced perspective, Duke and UNC Hillels were explicitly barred by the very event organizers themselves from even participating — UNC Hillel would later formally condemn the event. Rapper Tamer Nafar sang a grotesquely anti-Semitic "song" at the event. General demonization of Israel and downplaying of Israel's legitimate security concerns were ubiquitous. In acts of facial anti-Semitism, Jewish audience members were expressly cut off from even asking questions to the biased participants. Here is how Reitzes finally summarized the event, after it was all over:
This conference was about Israel-bashing and was held on Shabbat, a time that excluded observant Jewish students and community members from participating. A speaker who promoted BDS against Israel at the conference refused to speak with a Jewish student from Duke. Jewish and pro-Israel audience members were told that they could ask a question only, while pro-Palestinian questioners were allowed longer periods of time to comment and set up their questions. Conference attendees were greeted with photographs glorifying terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people. Mainstream pro-Israel groups, such as the UNC and Duke Hillel student chapters, were not invited to participate.
Amy Rosenthal at Algemeiner succinctly described the affair: "UNC and Duke University have sunk to a new low with this propaganda-fest." And to make matters even more unspeakably abhorrent, days after the conference, the UNC library was defaced with swastikas and even outrageous fliers that urged students to "do everything you can to fight the silent covert Jewish attempt to enslave and kill good Americans." Because who could have possibly predicted that such an egregious conference about the Hamas-electing — and, by and large, anti-Semitic to its core — Gazan population could ever transmogrify into pure, unambiguous Judeophobia?
Why on Earth did the U.S. taxpayer, via the aforementioned Department of Education grant, underwrite this disgusting gathering transparently dedicated to Jew-hatred?
Shamefully, Duke has a long history of engaging in such disgraceful anti-Semitic antics and entertaining such horrific figures — something that, as a concerned alum, I have been personally sounding the alarm about for years. Most recently, the Haym Salomon Center's Sloan Rachmuth wrote a Daily Wire op-ed less than two months ago titled, "Duke University Is Not A Safe Space For Jews":
The Duke campus has been the target of numerous anti-Semitic incidents in just the past few months, including destruction of Jewish property, genocidal expression, demonizing Jews and delegitimizing the Jewish state's right to exist, according to the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative.
A recent editorial in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, describes Israel as a "murderous" country with "genocidal policies." Titled, "AIPAC And The Blockade On Critiquing Israel," the piece, authored by the editorial board, defends the "ill-conceived wording" of Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar's recent tweet invoking the old anti-Semitic canards of Jewish power and money. ...
A member of the far-left anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine posted a meme mocking Jewish Duke students who were made to feel uncomfortable by The Chronicle's article. "Let's also not forget Israel's habit of forcibly sterilizing African/black+brown immigrants," posted another student.
Adding insult to injury, the mainstream media have been woefully silent in giving this misbegotten, rotten gathering of misanthropes the foul press they so richly deserve. As a modicum of sanity, local U.S. congressman Rep. George Holding (R-NC) has penned a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that urges an investigation into the hate-fest — including but hardly limited to ascertaining how such a bigoted affair received taxpayer funding, and to ensure that such an event never again receives a Department of Education grant.
The present on-campus situation for Jews and Israel at American universities is, to put it mildly, very, very bad. Jews, already (by far) the most frequent target of religious motivated hate crimes according to FBI statistics, are frequently discriminated against on university campuses under the thinly veiled guise of "intersectional" advocacy. Clearly, Jewish and pro-Israel intellectuals need to formulate comprehensive strategies for countering and combating the deeply pernicious strand of Jew-hatred that is increasingly ascendant among wide swaths of the pro-Islamism/pro-Palestinian progressive, activist, and on-campus Left.
But for the time being, righteous indignation is called for. Absolute, unqualified shame on each of Duke and UNC.