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GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into alleged 'anti-Israeli bias' at Duke-UNC conference
Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) is calling on the Department of Education to launch a federal investigation into an event on the Middle East co-sponsored by Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill following allegations of "severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer-funded conference."
Holding said he heard from multiple constituents expressing concerns over the "Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities" conference, which was held at UNC late last month, according to the News and Observer in Raleigh, and suggests that the Department of Education withdraw federal grant money to the program.
In a letter written to Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this week, Holding questioned whether remaining grant money awarded to the Consortium for Middle East Studies should be retracted if the reports of anti-Semitic remarks at the conference are true.
"If these reports are accurate, I have difficulty understanding why tax dollars should be spent on such an activity," he wrote.
Holding cited a video posted online that reportedly showed Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar performing what the lawmaker called a "brazenly anti-Semitic" song at the conference. He also wrote that speakers and panelists reportedly "distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza" and described the conference as promoting a "radical agenda."
"Examination of the official program reveals that several of the conference's speakers are actively involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement," Holding wrote in the letter.
The News & Observer reported that an edited clip from Nafar's performance shows the rapper urging the audience to sing with him by saying: "Let's try it together. I need your help. I can't be anti-Semitic alone," before rapping, "Oh, I'm in love with a Jew. ... You look beautifully anti-Semitic."
Holding said that the Consortium for Middle East Studies received $235,000 in federal grant money through the Department of Education, a portion of which was used for the conference.
"Prior to the event, local religious and community organizations, academics and citizens wrote the universities expressing concern that the conference lacked balance and appeared designed to promote a radical agenda," he wrote. "Apparently, these concerns were ignored, with no mainstream speakers or panelists included in the three-day conference."
The North Carolina Republican requested information be provided on the agency's policies on providing grants to organizations that promote an "anti-Israeli agenda;" whether any pro-Israel groups or speakers were invited to the event and whether presentations at the event included pro-BDS rhetoric and how much grant money was allocated toward the event.
"Honest academic debate featuring diverse perspectives and a wide-range of views is critical in a democratic society and a central tenet of America's educational system," Holding wrote. "However, it is irresponsible, immoral and unproductive for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy camouflaged as academic discourse."
After an edited video of the event provided by filmmaker Ami Horowitz was reported on by ABC11, the Consortium for Middle East Studies apologized for any offensive actions that took place at the conference.
"The center and sponsors supported the conference as an educational opportunity to focus on the situation in Gaza. While the video misconstrues the breadth of discourse that took place during the panels, UNC Global regrets any offense that the video and performance have had for members of the Jewish community," UNC Global told The Observer in a statement.