Universities should encourage healthy debate on controversial topics. Colleges traditionally advocate for freedom of speech and encourage robust exchange of ideas, but I believe universities have the responsibility to review the topics and vet speakers.
Last month, UNC Global’s Center of Middle East & Islamic Studies hosted “Conflict Over Gaza – People, Politics and Possibilities.” The event, sponsored by UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University, was an educational opportunity to hear a different viewpoint on a controversial topic. The conference website indicated the event’s purpose was to “shed much needed light on the current realities in the Gaza Strip” and highlight Gazan culture, music, films, food and art.
After watching documentary filmmaker Ami Horowitz’s undercover video from the conference, however, I wonder about the universities’ decision to give a platform to an anti-Semitic Palestinian rap artist, Tamar Nafar. Nafar begins his performance saying, “This is my anti-Semitic song.” He encourages attendees to sing along with ”I cannot be anti-Semitic alone’’ and “you look beautifully anti-Semitic.”
As disturbing as Nafar’s performance is, I am most bothered by the attendees cheering, laughing and singing along. I am heartbroken and angry! Young college kids celebrating hate speech? How desensitized have they become? Worse, no university staff or professors attending had the common sense or courage to end this disgusting show of hate toward Jewish people.
UNC’s Chancellor and Duke have issued statements of regret. The best comment conference leaders mustered: “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.”
Why would university leadership invite this performer and let the show go on without putting a stop to it? With a simple Google search you find Nafar is an anti-Semitic lightning rod, and the lyrics to his rap songs legitimize terrorism. One of his songs, “Who’s the Terrorist,” says “Democracy? Why? It reminds me of the Nazis / You’ve raped the Arab soul / And it became pregnant, giving birth to a child called terror attack / And then you call us terrorists.”
Are we to believe that leadership at UNC was ignorant of Nafar’s anti-Semitic background? This was certainly not his first public display of anti-Semitism, a truth easily discovered in a simple online search. UNC Global had a clear responsibility to research Nafar as part of the event planning. Did they do no research? Or did they do the research and allow him to perform anyway? It is terrible leadership either way.
As if that’s not enough, the conference used $5,000 in grant money from the Department of Education, according to UNC. Who oversees the use of these funds? The same people who thought it a good decision to invite an anti-Semite to perform and allow his disgusting performance to continue uninterrupted?
As a nation, we treasure our history of free speech and encourage it on our college campuses. But our love of free speech has traditionally been accompanied by a social obligation to reject hate from any source.