'Antisemitism has mutated': Jewish students, leaders worry over UNC-CH instructor's comments

Friday, August 27, 2021
Jewish students, leaders worry over UNC-CH instructor's comments
There are accusations of antisemitism on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus and an alleged blindspot for it -- spurring a new complaint filed to the U.S. Department of Education.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There are accusations of antisemitism on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's campus, specifically in an academic discourse surrounding Israel and the Middle East, and an alleged blindspot for it -- spurring a new complaint filed to the U.S. Department of Education.

"I think it's so offensive because it invalidates a lot of Jewish history and my personal identity," sophomore Abigail Adams told ABC11. "Just replace Zionist with Jew and it's pretty obvious it's anti-Semitic."

Adams, a political science major, hoped to enroll in a course entitled "The Conflict Over Israel and Palestine" this fall. Like many students before signing up for a class, Adams looked up the course's instructor - Kylie Broderick - and uncovered a series of posts on social media that immediately caught her attention. Among them, references to "Zionist dirtbags" and the U.S. as an "imperialist death cult."

"It feels very unprofessional to me, and not that all graduate students and professors have to be professional, but it felt very violent and in your face," Adams explained. "I want to learn about different perspectives. That's why I wanted to take the class in the first place, but I don't think it's fair for any student to worry about getting a lower grade because of their opinion in anything, even if it wasn't such a complex geopolitical issue."

Broderick has since deleted her Twitter account, but several screenshots of her past posts obtained by the ABC11 I-Team also show unabashed support of the "BDS" movement, which advocates for a boycott of Israeli products, divesting from companies that do business in Israel, and sanctioning the Jewish State (The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law outlawing state agencies from endorsing or promoting BDS). She has also expressed support for the notion that Israel should not exist.

"It feels very similar to how Jews have been talked about in the past, especially with violent antisemitism in the Holocaust," Adams added. "I think it's just a new mutation of what antisemitism is today."

Broderick ignored ABC11's request for an interview.

North Carolina Hillel, the Center for Jewish Life on Campus, engaged in several discussions with members of the UNC administration, including the Provost and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Ari Gauss, Executive Director at North Carolina Hillel, described the conversations as "amicable" but they have yet to lead to any concrete steps to alleviate concerns of Jewish students.

"They asked for us recommendations, which we provided," Gauss told ABC11. "While we remain deeply concerned about this course, we also recognize that this is a long-term challenge that demands our attention. We remain concerned about past experiences here at UNC, including the appointment of Ms. Broderick to instruct this course, and the systemic ignorance about antisemitism and of the connection between Judaism and the Land of Israel."

Philip Brodsky, Executive Director at the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Federation, echoed that sentiment. In a letter to UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Brodsky writes "Any viewpoint that denies Israel's right to exist, a clear antisemitic trope, is beyond the pale of what is acceptable discourse in a university classroom... We call on you to publicly state that antisemitism will not be tolerated at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and commit to taking steps to ensure that university staff and administrators are educated on antisemitism in order to prevent it from impacting the campus environment."

Antisemitism at UNC, North Carolina, and across the country

Preliminary information from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows an increase in online and real-world antisemitism in the United States since the recent bout of violence between Israel and Hamas.

ADL documented an increase in messages on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram with praise for Adolph Hitler. Twitter specifically saw more than 17,000 tweets that contained a variation of the phrase "Hitler was right" between May 7 and May 14.

The online verbal abuse is not the only form of hate being noted. There are several documented cases of physical, in-person harassment as well -- according to the ADL, the organization received 193 reports of possible antisemitic incidents in the week after fighting broke out between Israel and Gaza, compared to 62 in the week before -- a more than 200% increase.

Like in New York when a 29-year-old Jewish man was attacked in a gang assault that's now being investigated as a hate crime.

Then in Florida, a New Jersey family was shouted at and had garbage thrown at them.

In California, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters were caught on camera attacking diners outside a restaurant.

Even before the latest war in the Middle East, an event at UNC entitled "Conflict Over Gaza" led to accusations of antisemitism after an anti-Semitic song was performed by a Palestinian rapper.

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."

The outcry even led to a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and a subsequent Resolution Agreement with the federal government with commitments from UNC to combat discrimination against Jews if it wanted to continue receiving federal grants.

The D.C.-based Zionist Organization of America has since filed a new complaint, accusing UNC of violating that agreement in allowing Kylie Broderick to teach her course.

UNC Responds

In a statement to ABC11, a UNC spokesperson said "The University continues to comply with the Department of Education's resolution agreement."

Administration officials also declined to be interviewed, and instead referred our request to Terry Rhodes, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

"The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill strives to create a place where every member of our community feels safe and respected and can thrive in an environment free from racism, sexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and all other forms of prohibited discrimination and harassment. Instructors uphold this commitment through course designs, mentoring and departmental review," Rhodes told ABC11 in an emailed statement.

"Courses at UNC-Chapel Hill are taught by faculty and graduate students. Before graduate students become instructors, they typically undertake comprehensive training and mentoring to become teaching assistants to tenured faculty members. Some qualified graduate students undergo additional training to become teaching fellows, assuming responsibility for his/her own course, with supervision from a faculty mentor.

Especially with regard to courses covering content that could be considered controversial, the University provides extra structural support for instructors and for students. Such support may include the following:

  • Recording of class sessions.
  • "Blind" grading for the course-i.e., the instructor grades assignments without knowing the identity of the student.
  • Periodic check-ins or surveys that provide students in the course the opportunity to give anonymous feedback and to express any concerns. (This is in addition to the end-of-semester evaluation that is administered for every course.)
  • EOC (Equal Opportunity and Compliance) resources for students that are provided on the course syllabus.
  • For some courses, the instructor may invite guest speakers to offer various perspectives on complex issues.

We are deeply committed to academic freedom, and academic freedom requires academic responsibility. We emphasize and value open and inclusive classroom discussions and strive to teach different perspectives on a variety of topics.

You may be interested to learn that the College of Arts & Sciences will once again be offering the course "Confronting Antisemitism" this coming spring. This popular course was introduced last year. It broadly examines antisemitism throughout history as well as modern times and on campuses across the country. We will also be continuing our Countering Hate initiative. This initiative, begun in 2019, provides presentations and opportunities for conversation on topics to better understand troubling phenomena such as antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism."