I-Team: U.S. Department of Education investigating Duke-UNC Consortium after complaints of anti-Semitism

Tuesday, June 18, 2019
I-Team: US Dept of Education Investigating Duke-UNC Consortium after complaints of anti-Semitism
In a letter obtained by the ABC11 I-Team, Secretary DeVos says she is "troubled" by the concerns raised by Rep. George Holding.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTVD) -- On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos formally opened an investigation into the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies which applied a federal grant to host a conference on Gaza tainted by accusations of anti-Semitism.

In a letter obtained by the ABC11 I-Team, Secretary DeVos said she is "troubled" by the concerns raised by Rep. George Holding (R-North Carolina) who first requested an investigation earlier this spring.

"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 to determine if the Consortium violated the terms and conditions of its grant."

The Duke-UNC Consortium hosted the "Conflict Over Gaza" in March at UNC-Chapel Hill, and it was an event sponsored by more than two dozen university departments, plus the Rotary Club of Raleigh and other local organizations.

A video taken by filmmaker Ami Horowitz captured an anti-Semitic song being performed by a Palestinian rapper - and met with applause.

Many thought the conference would provide diverse perspectives on the conflict in the Middle East, but rapper Tamer Nafar tells the audience: "Let's try it together. I need your help. I cannot be anti-Semitic alone." That was before he sang a song with the lyrics: "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."

"I'd like to thank Secretary Devos for treating this matter with the seriousness and attention it deserves," Rep. Holding said in response to the new investigation. "I hope we can all agree that it is irresponsible and immoral for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy under the guise of constructive academic discourse."

Many department heads and sponsors demanded their money back after the controversy erupted.

In a scathing letter to leaders of the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, which officially sponsored the event, UNC School of Law Dean Martin Brinkley said: "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."

A statement released by UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz called the performance "disturbing" and that he is "heartbroken and deeply offended that this performance happened. I stand steadfast against Anti-Semitism and hate in all its forms."

UNC-Chapel Hill will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Education to directly answer any questions about the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, the university said.