On Saturday March 23, I attended UNC-Chapel Hill's (UNC-CH) "Conflict Over Gaza," which I had hoped might possibly be constructive but in reality, was an anti-Israel hate-fest. The three-day conference was sponsored by UNC's Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. As reported in the Tower, the opening reception and the opening remarks, as well as the full-day "academic sessions," were all held on Shabbat, thus preventing observant members of the Jewish community from attending.
At 8am, an hour before the conference was to begin, there was already a large, peaceful group of protestors holding signs such as "Free Gaza from Hamas," "UNC Indoctrination Education Center" and "Gaza Elected a Terrorist Government." Protestors handed out copies of the previous day's New York Times column on how Hamas terrorizes and brutalizes the Palestinian people, the people it rules.
The large lobby area served as the central gathering place with vendor tables and catered snacks. It featured a large screen that played a photo collage on repeat, celebrating and glorifying Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Conference attendees continually saw photographs of Palestinians attacking Israel with incendiary devices, such as fire kites. Photographs of other forms of Palestinian terror – such as rockets and mortars being launched at Israel, terror tunnels, and suicide killers – were deliberately omitted from the collage.
The myth being sold here is that Palestinians fight with just kites and fire. Nowhere were there photographs of Israeli children hiding and crying in shelters as rockets from Gaza exploded around them.
There was a table with hundreds of free conference t-shirts that prominently said "Gaza," which conference staff were busy folding and handing out. There were hundreds of free tote bags, as well, with regular announcements throughout the day to get your free gear. I can't imagine UNC and Duke ever handing out hundreds of free t-shirts that said "Israel." When the UNC and Duke Consortium for Middle East Studies applied for and received a federal grant through the Department of Education (DOE) worth $235,000, I wonder if the federal government imagined that free Gaza "swag" was part of the plan.
There was a "UNC Student Stores" bookstore setup with more than 20 titles that shared central themes of anti-Israel and Hamas apologetics. I picked up a book titled Hamas: A Beginner's Guide and opened it to a random page. The first paragraph I read in the book included the following statement: "Intrinsically and religiously Hamas could not be anti-Jewish." The author went on to admit that Hamas' charter contains many "anti-Jewish statements" but then dismissed Hamas' charter as "irrelevant" to the group. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that Hamas is "well known" for "anti-Jewish hatred." The United States, European Union, and many others classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. The corrupt message being sold was: Hamas says they don't like Jews, but they don't really believe it.
The book store attendant informed me that the Conference Director chose the books being sold at the event.
Another book was titled Gaza Mom, authored by conference speaker Laila El-Haddad. This book repeatedly compares the treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust, stating, "The real genocide in Gaza cannot or will not be assessed through sheer numbers. It is not a massacre of gas chambers. No. It is a slow and calculated genocide – a Genocide through more calibrated, long-term means." Trivializing the Holocaust yet again in the book, El-Haddad even referred to election workers as "election Nazis." Why would UNC sell and presumably profit from such books?
Next to the bookstore table was an UNRWA table (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). One of the UNRWA handouts for conference attendees stated, "Our vision is an America invested in in [sic] the lives and dignity of Palestine refugees." The UNRWA materials did not mention or call for an end to Palestinian terrorism against Israel or for an end to Hamas' brutalization of Palestinians.
Lori Mosher, program manager, represented UNRWA at the conference. On Twitter, Mosher has accused Israel of specifically targeting Palestinian children, which is typical of earlier anti-Semitic blood libels.
A flyer at the conference registration table invited attendees to an upcoming anti-police and anti-Israel event that UNC's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Coalition for Peace with Justice were sponsoring. Both of these anti-Israel organizations promote boycotting Israel. According to the ADL, SJP chapters "regularly demonize Jewish students who identify as Zionists." Professor Elyse Crystall is faculty advisor to the UNC-CH chapter of SJP. Crystall is well-known for her anti-Semitic positions, having, for example, opposed a candidate for the Durham, NC City Council because the candidate – a Latino immigrant from Colombia – attends synagogue.
None of the local organizations that educate and advocate for Israel were invited to participate in any manner in this conference. The Duke and UNC organizers snubbed their own Duke and UNC Hillel chapters, as well as the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill, which represent thousands of local Jews and the local synagogues. None were invited to participate. Voice4Israel and the North Carolina Coalition for Israel (NCCI), two very active groups, were also not invited to attend, to have a table with educational materials, or to present.
Mainstream pro-Israel groups and voices were excluded from all facets of this Israel-bashing conference.
This article is part of a three-part series on the joint UNC Chapel Hill-Duke "Conference on Gaza." Parts two and three will run in The Tower on Thursday and Friday respectively.