(JTA) – The U.S. Department of Education will investigate a Middle East conference on Gaza co-sponsored by two North Carolina universities over allegations that it had an anti-Israel bias. Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., called on the department to check into the late March conference co-sponsored by Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill held at the latter campus. Holding said he had seen “reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and antisemitic rhetoric at the taxpayer-funded conference,” The Raleigh News & Observer reported.
The universities budgeted $5,000 in Education Department funding from a four-year grant paying $235,000 annually for international and foreign language education programming. UNC told the newspaper on Tuesday, June 18 that it spent less than $200 of the grant money. Education Secretary Betsy Devos responded in a letter to Holding on Tuesday. “I am troubled by the concerns outlined in your letter,” she wrote. “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.”
The conference featured a performance by the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar. Edited clips of Nafar singing his song “Mama, I Fell in Love with a Jew” at the conference were posted on social media. Kevin Guskiewicz, UNC’s interim chancellor, called the performance “disturbing and hateful language,” although Nafar and others said it was clearly satirical.
The Louis D. Brandeis Center, which monitors anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity on campus, said in a statement that the conference “minimized Hamas’ role in perpetuating the crisis” in Gaza. The statement added: “Furthermore, panels and programs denied Israel’s right to exist, brandishing it a ‘settler-colonialist’ entity while negating the enduring legacy of Jewish life in the region.”