Rep. George Holding has asked the Department of Education to investigate whether a joint conference on Middle East studies by Duke University and the University of North Carolina that allegedly contained “anti-semitic rhetoric” should be the basis for pulling federal funding from a consortium of university foreign language and studies programs.
In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Holding criticized the “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities” conference in March in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he says he saw “reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer-funded conference.”
The schools used $5,000 of federal grant money from DOE for the event, the News and Observer in Raleigh reported.
Holding, a North Carolina Republican, is asking DOE to determine whether the rest of the four-year, $235,000-per-year grant should be “revoked” over the use of some funds for an “overtly biased” event against Israel.
“Honest academic debate featuring diverse perspectives and a wide-range of views is critical in a democratic society and a central tenet of American’s educational system,” Holding wrote to DeVos.
“However, it is irresponsible, immoral and unproductive for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy under the guise of academic discourse,” he wrote.
Filmmaker Ami Horowitz shared clips with local TV station ABC11 from a trip to the UNC campus in Chapel Hill on the weekend of the Middle East conference. Horowitz captured video of the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar of the hip-hop group DAM leading the crowd in a song that he, on-stage, characterized as “anti-Semitic.”
The News & Observer reported that the Horowitz video of Nafar’s performance was edited before it was posted.
Horowitz apparently approached students attending the event under false pretenses, and conducted hidden-microphone interviews, the N&O story said.
The filmmaker also told ABC11 that he had heard there was a conference on UNC’s campus about the conflict in Gaza, and he assumed it was going to be a “hate fest” against Israel.
“When I went there, that is what I found, but what I did not expect was for it to evolve into open anti-Semitism,” Horowitz said. He alluded to recent statements from lawmakers like Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa that have received widespread condemnation for their anti-Semitic implications.
Holding argued in his letter to DOE that the event program contained a list of speakers with a clear “anti-Israel bias.”
Before the event, Holding alleges in his letter, “local religious and community organizations, academics and citizens” wrote to Duke and UNC expressing concern that the three-day conference “lacked balance and appeared designed to promote a radical agenda.”
But no other speakers were added to the lecture list.
“If these reports are accurate,” Holding wrote DeVos, “I have difficulty understanding why tax dollars should be spent on such an activity.”