Congress is petitioning the Education Department to explain how $235,000 in taxpayer dollars were used to fund a series of anti-Israel events organized by Duke University and the University of North Carolina that featured speakers and events tied to Palestinian terror groups.
Rep. George Holding (R., Ga.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, petitioned Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in a letter sent Monday to investigate the events, which the lawmaker described as featuring "severe anti-Israeli bias and explicit anti-Semitism."
Holding had received a spate phone calls from citizens concerned about the anti-Semitic events.
The conference in question, titled "Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities," was co-sponsored by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, which is said to have "applied for and received a $235,000 grant through the Department of Education in 2018."
The anti-Israel events have generated controversy at both schools due to what observers have described as a vitriolic anti-Israel bias that fosters an unsafe environment on campus for Jewish students. Duke has come under fire in past moths for hosting similar events that witnesses have described as anti-Israel.
Duke is still facing the fallout over the publication by its student newspaper of an opinion piece defending Rep. Ilhan Omar from charges of anti-Semitism and defending her use of language accusing pro-Israel and Jewish lawmakers of holding dual loyalty, a classic anti-Semitic trope.
Many of the events have been hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group known to distribute anti-Semitic propaganda, and other pro-Palestinian campus groups that watchdog groups have cited as contributing to rising anti-Semitism on America's college campuses.
"A number of my constituents have reached out to me expressing concern over what they tell me are reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer-funded conference, ‘Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities,' held between March 22nd-24th at the University of North Carolina (UNC), in conjunction with Duke University (Duke)," Holding wrote in his letter.
Further information about these events obtained by the Washington Free Beacon indicates that several speakers and participants in the events discussed holding meetings with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, or PFLP, a designated foreign terror organization.
During these events—which hosted speakers such as Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, who has been accused of anti-Semitism—Israel is said to have been maligned along with pro-Israel Jews.
"According to first-hand accounts, the conference had a radical anti-Israeli bias," Holding wrote in the letter, reporting accounts described by concerned constituents. "Reportedly, speakers and panelists distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza. A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly anti-Semitic song."
Furthermore, "examination of the official program reveals that several of the conference's speakers are actively involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement," according to Holding's letter.
The nature of these events calls into questions the Department of Education's decision to grant the school's $235,000 in taxpayer funds. Lawmakers such as Holding maintain that federal dollars should not be spent to promote anti-Israel exhibits on campus.
"If these reports are accurate, I have difficulty understanding why tax dollars should be spent on such an activity," Holding wrote, including a list of questions to be answered by the Education Department.
Holding is seeking to determine if the Education Department has policies in place to prevent federal dollars from promoting anti-Israel agendas. He also is seeking to determine if violence was glorified during these events and whether the reports of anti-Semitism surrounding the events would warrant a revocation of remaining federal dollars.
"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," Holding wrote. "Apparently, these concerns were ignored, with no mainstream speakers or panelists included in the three-day conference."
"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," the letter states. "However, it is irresponsible, immoral, and unproductive for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy camouflaged as academic discourse."
Duke did not respond to Free Beacon requests for comment, but did provide a recent statement to local news outlets.
"We want to be very clear: antisemitism is one of the great scourges of modern life," read a joint statement from Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Provost Sally Kornbluth. "Its resurgence, as demonstrated by the worldwide increase in hate crimes and incidents, is deeply troubling and should be of great concern to any civil society.
"Whether it occurs on our campus, in our community, through graffiti, rallies or concerts, in conference rooms or courtrooms, we must all speak out forcefully against actions and statements that target and threaten members of our Jewish community. On our campus and beyond, the lines of politics, trust, activism and civility cannot become so blurred that we lose our commitment to mutual respect. We must guard against the danger that our passions obscure our common humanity, and we must remind ourselves that what injures any one of us injures us all."