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the pulpitBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

UNC in hot water again: Congressman demands university end ‘repeated anti-Semitic activity’

Because BDS singles out Israel for opprobrium, advocating it in the classroom could violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an executive order passed by the former administration.

Logo plate at the University of North Carolina. Credit: Wayfarerlife/Shutterstock.
Logo plate at the University of North Carolina. Credit: Wayfarerlife/Shutterstock.
Winfield Myers
Winfield Myers

Unless the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes steps to correct “repeated anti-Semitic activity” in the classroom, it may be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI CRA), according to a letter by Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.). Budd’s action follows a spate of congressional letters to universities over the past two years, including to UNC, objecting to on-campus anti-Semitism, politicized curricula and the misuse of federal funds.

In a Sept. 15 letter to UNC system president Peter Hans, Budd objected to a series of what he called “public anti-Semitic statements” made by UNC history graduate student Kylie Broderick, who is currently teaching a course titled “The Conflict over Israel/Palestine.”

Referring to the content of several now-deleted but archived tweets posted by Broderick between December 2020 and July 2021, Budd charged that she “falsely and unapologetically accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and denied Israel’s right to exist.”

In a December tweet, Broderick calls herself an “anti-imperialist teaching the modern Middle East” and expresses her frustration with presenting “2 sides” of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A follow-up tweet, quoted in part by Budd, argues that “there is only 1 legitimate side—the oppressed—versus imperialist propaganda. I don’t ever want to encourage them [her students] to believe there is reason to take on good faith the oppressive ideologies of American and Western imperialism, Zionists and autocrats.”

Budd’s charges of violating Title VI CRA rest on, first, the legislation’s prohibition of “discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities on the basis of race, color or national origin.” Acknowledging that Title VI CRA doesn’t include religion, Budd cites former President Donald Trump’s December 2019 Executive Order “Combating Anti-Semitism,” which stipulates that the government will evaluate Title VI CRA claims using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

Accordingly, Budd writes, “it is anti-Semitic to … deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, engage in blood libels or apply a double standard by requiring of the Jewish state a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Anticipating push-back that Broderick’s statements are protected free speech, the letter argues they are in fact “anti-Semitic—exactly the kind of statements that do not further academic freedom and that create a pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students.”

Several of Broderick’s tweets not quoted by Budd, but examined in The Algemeiner, buttress his case. From May 15: “God I love watching you Zionist dirtbags get ratio’d left and right. Gaza is burning and all you care about is yourself.” Two days later, she tweeted in support of the BDS movement that seeks to isolate Israel from the world community: “Everyone at UNC has a responsibility to step up for Palestine and Palestinians. … Boycott Israeli products. Investigate UNC’s investments.”

A follow-up tweet linked to the Palestinian BDS National Committee, a coalition that includes the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. On July 19, she tweeted, “All of Israel is occupied Palestinian territory.”

Such tweets create additional problems for Broderick should UNC investigate her course’s objectivity. Claiming that “everyone” at UNC should support BDS necessarily includes her students, whether they agree or not. Because BDS singles out Israel for opprobrium, advocating it in the classroom could violate Title VI CRA as allowed under Trump’s executive order. And if all of Israel is occupied territory, its obliteration as a Jewish state seems her implied goal.

Budd ends by reminding Hans that UNC was charged with tolerating bigotry in 2019, when it reached a resolution with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) following investigations into violations of Title VI CRA and the misuse of federal funds, both sparked by a letter from then-representative George Holding (R-N.C.). After a university-sponsored performance at which a singer praised anti-Semitism and told his audience, “you look beautifully anti-Semitic,” UNC agreed, in Budd’s words, to “take all steps reasonably designed to ensure that students” are not “subjected to a hostile environment.”

In light of this resolution, Budd warns that “it is a violation of Title VI for UNC administrators to encourage, tolerate, fail to adequately address or ignore” prohibited discrimination and reminds that UNC is obligated to provide a “balanced” educational atmosphere “free from harassment and anti-Semitism.”

Classroom biases similar to those with which Broderick is charged were found in a separate 2019 DOE investigation alleging that the jointly operated Duke-UNC Center for Middle East Studies misappropriated federal funds, which are granted only to those universities meeting specific criteria under the law, by supporting biased, politicized classes and research. Addressed to UNC’s vice chancellor for research, it alleged that CMES “appears to lack balance,” which DOE called a “troubling” sign that “strongly suggests Duke-UNC CMES is not meeting legal requirements” to provide a “full understanding of the areas, regions or countries” supported by federal funds.

The week following Bud’s letter, UNC chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz issued a statement proposing a bureaucratic solution. Recognizing a “line between some expressions of anti-Zionism and actual anti-Semitism,” he announced a partnership with Hillel, a “diverse advisory committee” and “listening sessions” to “bring our community together.” All are unlikely to satisfy UNC’s critics. Given Guskiewicz’s refusal to admit Broderick’s anti-Semitism, they shouldn’t.

Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum and director of its Campus Watch project.

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