CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UPDATE:
U.S. Rep. George Holding is weighing in on the controversy surrounding a rapper's anti-Semitic message last month at an event held at UNC-Chapel Hill.
On Monday, April 15, Holding, who represents North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos requesting an investigation into the Duke-UNC conference on Gaza amid reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
In part, Holding wrote:
"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).
"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. ... If these reports are accurate, I have difficulty understanding why tax dollars should be spent on such an activity."
READ MORE: See Holding's full letter to DeVos here.
"I cannot be anti-Semitic alone."
That's the declaration captured on video of a performer at last month's Conflict Over Gaza conference, an event held at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and co-sponsored by several UNC entities and departments, including the Chancellor's Global Education Fund.
Watch a portion of the performance above.
"Let's try it together," rapper Tamer Nafar tells the audience before his performance, inviting them to sing. "I need your help. I cannot be anti-Semitic alone."
"Don't think of Rihanna when you sing this, don't think of Beyonce - think of Mel Gibson. I'm in love with a Jew/Oh/I fell in love with a Jew/Oh/Her skin is white and my skin is brown, she was going up up and I was going down."
The raw video was taken by filmmaker Ami Horowitz and shared exclusively with the ABC11 I-Team. Horowitz, based in New York, posted that clip and other anti-Semitic exchanges he said he experienced while visiting the campus the weekend of March 22 on his YouTube page.
"I heard there was a conference going on about the conflict in Gaza, and my initial assumption was that it was going to be a hate fest against Israel," Horowitz tells ABC11. "When I went there, that is what I found, but what I did not expect was for it to evolve into open anti-Semitism."
"You expect these attitudes from Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, but you don't expect these attitudes in the halls of academia and the halls of Congress," he said.
Gaza Conference Started With Controversy
The conference, titled Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities, was officially sponsored by the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. The event's website lists more than 30 co-sponsors ranging from UNC School of Law to the Rotary Club of Raleigh.
The three-day event's description explains that the conference "will shed much-needed light on the current realities in the Gaza Strip, giving participants a deeper understanding of the context of these realities and offering concrete options that can better the lives of Gazans. The conference also highlights Gazan culture-music, films, food, and art-to showcase the beauty that goes along with the challenges of life in the Gaza Strip."
The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, moreover, says on its website that it "supports events that increase awareness of the history and cultures of the Middle East and Muslim civilizations, and values diverse perspectives that promote dialogue and understanding. Events listed here originate from a variety of campus units and community organizations. The listing of an event does not constitute endorsement of or agreement with the views presented therein."
UNC Global's response
ABC11 reached out to UNC about the conference. Citing Horowitz's YouTube video, UNC Global sent the following statement: This video was produced by an individual who attended the "Conflict over Gaza" conference and recorded discussions with a number of attendees who were unaware he was taping their statements. The content was heavily edited, and the product as presented does not provide context as to the questions and the full, complete answers given. Moreover, we do not believe this video represents the spirit of scholarship at the event.
The conference brought together internationally recognized scholars and professionals from NGOs, think tanks, and academia to address a range of topics about Gaza from different viewpoints.The sponsors supported the event as an educational opportunity, and this video misconstrued the breadth of discourse that took place during the panels.
Our University is united by students, faculty, and staff from more than one hundred countries and represented by a diverse range of perspectives, traditions, and faiths. Diversity is an intrinsically vital part of shaping dialogue that can address complex issues, and we uphold a commitment to fostering a welcoming environment to people from all backgrounds.
Conferences such as this are organized by scholars who have academic freedom to develop the programming and invite their selected speakers and performers. UNC Global supports faculty in hosting these conferences without endorsing the beliefs of speakers or performers.
ABC11 again reached out to UNC Global, sending them the raw, unedited version of the performance. The organization referred ABC11 back to the original statement, with emphasis on the final paragraph.
Late Thursday evening, Duke sent a response to ABC11.
"We want to be very clear: antisemitism 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," said a joint statement from Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth. "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. On our campus and beyond, the lines of politics, trust, activism and civility cannot become so blurred that we lose our commitment to mutual respect. We must guard against the danger that our passions obscure our common humanity, and we must remind ourselves that what injures any one of us injures us all."
On Friday, UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz issued the following statement: 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.
Several members of the Triangle's Jewish Community sent letters to both UNC and Duke leaders critical of the conference and its roster of speakers.
In a letter posted online, Hillel North Carolina writes:
"North Carolina Hillel is disappointed that the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies' "Conflict Over Gaza" conference 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. Organizers missed the opportunity to convene a rich, educational forum that the UNC and Duke communities deserve."
Beth El Synagogue in Durham, meanwhile, wrote to administrators ahead of the event that "Beth El members have been troubled by the recent uptick in antisemitic acts which have occurred at Duke, UNC, and around the Durham-Chapel Hill area. In addition to this, while criticism of Israel is, of course, legitimate and important in a democratic society, portraying Israel only as an oppressor and Palestinians only as victims functions to demonize Israel, and neither leads to constructive dialogue nor advances rigorous academic thought."
Anti-Semitic posters found at Davis Library
Unrelated to the conference, Guskiewicz on Wednesday alerted students and faculty that "university Libraries officials found several anti-Semitic posters on bookshelves and tables in Davis Library."
"I am extremely disappointed and appalled that anyone would write these abhorrent messages and direct them toward members of our Jewish community," Guzkiewicz added. "This behavior conflicts with the University's long-standing commitment to fostering an environment where all students, faculty and staff can be free from harassment."
Hillel North Carolina also wrote a letter to students that added more details to the posters: "The fliers include references to 'an evil Jewish plot,' and the missive, 'do everything you can to fight the silent covert Jewish attempt to enslave and kill good Americans.'"